Thrills at the Three Kings

The NZ Fishing News crew ticks all the boxes at the promised land.

Mixing business with pleasure is never to be scoffed at, and for this fishing scribe, it simply doesn’t get much better than a five-day ‘work’ trip to the Three Kings Islands. Beyond the reach of all but the most well-equipped trailerboats (and well-endowed trailerboat skippers), this group of 13 islands, innumerable reefs and rocky outcrops, and offshore banks and drop-offs, needs no introduction for many in the Kiwi fishing fraternity. Located 30 nautical miles northwest of Cape Reinga, the Three Kings is the perfect location to test the mettle of your crew’s fishing gear, stamina, sea legs, and (for some) livers.

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"The Three Kings is the perfect location to test the mettle of your crew’s fishing gear, stamina, sea legs, and (for some) livers."

The operation

In stark contrast to the inhospitable Three Kings, our adventure began in the tranquillity of Whangaroa Harbour, where we were welcomed aboard Demelza by the experienced Blue Water Adventures crew – Capt. Phil, Phil’s son and second skipper Matt, and deckie Sam. Demelza is an ex-commercial surface longline vessel, constructed like a veritable tank from steel, and retrofitted to a high-quality sportfishing standard by Phil and Matt. You can read more about Blue Water Adventures and the good ship Demelza at the bottom of this article.

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The initial personality feeling-out period passed quickly, with good-hearted banter and gentle roasting soon flowing around the vessel – a sure sign that the crew mix was about right! This was fortuitous because Phil informed us we would be “flatmates” for the next five days during his comprehensive safety briefing. The living standard aboard Demelza is certainly a lot better than most Dunedin flats during my university days, and you can’t catch marlin, swords, and kingfish on Castle Street either, I giggled to myself. With the admin all sorted, and an artillery of fishing tackle loaded aboard, we snuck into the Whangaroa Sport Fishing Club for a quick dinner before casting ropes and chugging off on our voyage.

The fishing plan

Going into multi-day trips with an open mind about where you’ll be fishing and what you’ll be catching ensures you’re unlikely to be disappointed. The beauty of the Kings is that they present endless possibilities of species and methods to indulge in, and I’d simply be happy to be there catching some kind of fish. Our angling crew had a similar mindset, although there were a couple of clear goals. NZ Fishing News Commercial Director Josh Williams was eager to trade his marlin chastity belt for a harness and gimbal belt, whilst neither NZ Fishing News Managing Director Grant Blair nor the recently retired Grant Dixon – despite their collective angling experience – had brought a swordfish to the boat. Self-described “happy labrador” Richard Bowe, and filming/social media extraordinaire Injun Park, rounded off the angling clout aboard.

Makin' bait

Something I learned quickly through my charter career, and from mentors such as Rick Pollock, was that the success of such trips generally hinges on the quality of live and dead baits on hand. The Blue Water Adventures team knows this all too well, hence why our first night was spent in Whangaroa Harbour filling the tank up with jack mackerel and small kahawai. Confident we had plenty of livies aboard, and that they would be supplemented throughout the trip by koheru and fresh arrow squid caught out at the islands, Phil made the call to wave the harbour goodbye and get some lures in the water at daybreak.

Marlin!

Although the striped marlin hadn’t yet turned up on the King and Middlesex Banks in numbers, plenty of pelagics were hanging around off the northern coast, so hopes were high we’d run over some stickfaces along the way. And we didn’t have to wait long. Not far past Cape Karikari, a pack of striped marlin interrupted the monotonous diesel hum as the starboard rigger, and then the shotgun, popped off and two Talica 50s began wailing. One fell off, and shortly thereafter we identified a further issue – angler Josh was nowhere to be seen!

"Not far past Cape Karikari, a pack of striped marlin interrupted the monotonous diesel."

Trundling out from the forward cabin amidst pointed screams and blasphemies, he was quickly set up on the rod, the gear was cleared, and Phil grasped the cockpit controls and started backing up. With much expert (and generally harmonious) advice thrown his way, Josh did a stellar job, and half an hour later we had a tag in a beautiful striped marlin estimated at 85kg. The boys were on the board!

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Squirting squid

The scenery was moody upon arrival at our remote destination, and the pick was set in the usual anchorage of Northwest Bay. One unfortunate soul had succumbed to a case of ‘first-day mal de mer’ but the rest of the crew’s attention turned to rigging up some squid gear. If you’ve ever spent a few nights fishing around the Waitemata Harbour to snag the odd broad squid, the cephalopod fishing at Northwest Bay is almost inconceivable.

"The cephalopod fishing at Northwest Bay is almost inconceivable."

I opted to fish small dead mackerel on a skewer-type squid jig while others fished more conventional prawn jigs, and it wasn’t long after dark before packs of large arrow squid revealed themselves in the underwater lights. It was laugh-a-minute fishing, with these strange critters spraying ink, water, and funny noises all over the deck. It wasn’t only Demelza that bore the brunt of the shots either; most of the crew experienced their own Northwest Bay ‘shower’ too! By the time we called it quits and hit the bunks, the bait bin was loaded with prime kingfish, bass, and swordfish offerings.

Kingfish

After stocking up on some lively koheru using tiny aji softbaits and cut baits, Demelza headed off the next morning in search of some big greenbacks. Slow-trolling livies and whole arrow squid along the stunning backdrop of island cliffs was the name of the game, and we hoped the kings would play ball. We weren’t left hoping for long, however, as our first two baits were gobbled up in no time, marking the start of a huge, arm-stretching session.

"Injun took a well-deserved break from filming to wrestle in the fish of the day – a beautiful 30kg specimen."

Innumerable fish from 15-25kg were hauled in on the Shimano Stella and Ocea Jigger sets amongst the odd, inevitable kingfish spanking. One personal spanking that hurt was when Grant B persuaded me to slow down on a fish as he wanted to snap a few product images. Give those kingies an inch and they’ll take a mile – thanks, mate! Injun took a well-deserved break from filming to wrestle in the fish of the day – a beautiful 30kg specimen. It’s fair to say that even though our bodies weren’t entirely broken, we all slept very well that evening.

Trevally

Trevally certainly make worthy sportfishing targets around the islands, and as such we dedicated a few hours in between kingie fishing to cast softbaits and cut baits at these hump-headed, shiny monstrosities. It was essentially a sight-fishing exercise as the fish showed themselves in the gin-clear water along areas of upwellings. We enjoyed plenty of line-peeling action, with Grant B taking top honours with a 7-8kg specimen. Those big dinner plates sure pull hard on the softbait gear, and we also managed a few bonus pink maomao and 4-6kg snapper to keep things interesting

"We dedicated a few hours in between kingie fishing to cast softbaits and cut baits at these hump-headed, shiny monstrosities."

Big bad bass

The underwater terrain around the various banks out from the islands is mind-boggling, and the perfect place to pull up some bass with eyes goggling. After our day on the kingies, the Blue Water Adventures team rose at 3am to steam out to the banks for some morning deep drops. We were well-equipped for deepwater ooglies with a pair of Shimano Beastmasters (including the new 12000 that sports a whopping 43kg of drag) and big baits (whole trevally, skippie fillets, and whole squid). Phil scoped out some sign 200-odd metres down and it was bombs-away. The action was instant upon touching down, with Grant D (or should I say the Beastmaster?) hauling in a nice ‘puka while down the rail Richard found himself attached to something much bigger.

Richard had made the mistake (perhaps encouraged by the deckies) of holding the electric set without a gimble. The poor bloke spent 10 minutes with the Abyss bent-butt rod prairie-dogging out from between his legs, as the electric reel went to battle. To his credit, he sported an enthusiastic grin throughout the entire fight, and in a swirl of gas bubbles, up popped a 50kg bass, with the Mustad ‘puka rig holding firm in the corner of its cavernous gob. The next challenge for the exhausted chap was to hoist the spiky brute up for the photo shoot.

"...up popped a 50kg bass, with the Mustad ‘puka rig holding firm in the corner of its cavernous gob."

In an overt display of masculinity, Matt then dropped down some baits on a jig rod to show us that bass can still be caught the old-fashioned way. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I did the same, hauling up a 20kg bass in about five times the amount of time it took the electrics. With the fish bins looking awfully healthy, Phil rounded up the troops for a pow-wow. The weather was good, so he put plenty of options on the table for us to mull over. The overwhelming consensus was that we’d ticked off all the species we came for except swordfish. “Take us to the swords, please Skip!”

Swordfish

Despite Matt and Sam’s protests, we were under strict instructions from the lads at Shimano that we were not to test out the Beastmaster 12000 on a sword. So, sometime later, we found ourselves out in the middle of nowhere in over 500m of water, rigging up an 80-wide with some lights, a breakaway weight, and a whole squid bait. Shortly after reaching the zone down below, a bit of action was transmitted through the line. The boys told Grant B to grab the rod as they suspected a sword might have taken the bait and be heading for the surface.

“Excitement rose as the line started angling out away from Demelza, and then reached a crescendo as a sword breached the surface."

There was a small amount of weight on the rod; was it a little bluenose or some other deepwater critter? Excitement rose as the line started angling out away from Demelza, and then reached a crescendo as a sword breached the surface. The lads were quickly onto it, reversing up and grabbing the leader before the fish had a chance to dig in. Sam had his work cut out for him with the gloves as Matt used all the revs available to stay with the fish. Phil muscled into the action with a well-placed gaff shot in the shoulder and we’d ticked off another species – how good! This fish had seen some other battles in its time – its sword had been broken off about halfway down the bill – but it clearly couldn’t handle the raw power of Grant B (or should I say Sam?). While we cracked open a few celebratory Export Ultras, Grant D stoically strapped into his harness – the man wanted his slice of the action.

Another tentative sword bite was immediately forthcoming on the next drop, and we couldn’t believe our luck – two fish from two drops! ‘GD’ was grinning like a Cheshire cat as a slightly smaller sword showed itself on the surface. Once again, the crew backed up and grabbed the leader swiftly, although the fish pulled the hook shortly after. No matter though, it was a caught fish destined for release anyway. And we had all the action on film. Just in case we hadn’t had quite enough excitement for the day, a stripie popped up in the spread as we were setting the lures for the steam home, but unfortunately, we couldn’t prick it properly.

Finishing up

We all had a wonderful five days aboard Demelza, experiencing a variety of fishing, some epic catches, and plenty of laughs. The Blue Water Adventures team is hard-working and very down to earth, making our time aboard both productive and extremely enjoyable. They also involved us in all the decision-making, which the crew really appreciated. We were even treated to a special debrief session on our return to Whangaroa Harbour. I won’t get into the gory details, but it was a fitting way to cap off our adventure. After not fishing the Three Kings for several years, it was a privilege to return to that special part of the country. Now all I want to do is go back!

Blue Water Adventures & Demelza

Blue Water Adventures, based out of Whangaroa in Northland, has been creating unforgettable memories for both Kiwis and international visitors for decades. Blessed with great fishing on their doorstep, the team offers a wide range of charter options from day trips to long-range, offshore voyages. The species options available on these trips include snapper, kingfish, marlin, swordfish, ‘puka, and bass.

The Blue Water Adventures team pride themselves on being able to plan and deliver trips designed around anglers’ personal dreams and goals… and they’re always up for a challenge!

Demelza

A well-known and highly regarded vessel around New Zealand, Demelza is a purpose-built vessel for extended periods of offshore fishing. The boat is literally built like a battleship, constructed from steel and boasting the strength and seakeeping ability of a much larger vessel. Starting life as a tuna surface line vessel, Demelza has successfully fished to the limit of our territorial waters (200 miles offshore) and safely delivered her crew and catch home for many years.


Demelza has been fully refitted for serious charter fishing and has had every part and system on the boat upgraded to an extremely high standard. With comfort and safety at the top of the list, no expense has been spared in setting up the boat with the very latest equipment available.

Demelza has generous sleeping quarters to accommodate up to eight anglers, complemented by a domestic-size galley and bathroom facilities. Deck space is where the boat really stands out with huge fore and aft decks and wide walk-around access meaning fishing is not just restricted to the cockpit. There is over 30m of safe room along the rails of Demelza allowing tons of space for anglers to spread out and fight their fish. The covered cockpit also contains livebait tanks, a bait station, and a huge central table with a built-in BBQ.

You can find out more here.


April 2024 - Words by Nick Jones; Images by Nick Jones, Grant Blair & Injun Park
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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