My Fishy Life by Reed Evans
Most of this story is based in New Zealand where I was born in 1935
I guess I was about four when I caught my first fish. My older cousin who lived across the stream from me taught me to bend one of my Mums pins in the shape of a hook and using a length of cotton, presto, we were fishing! Our bait was worms from the garden and we fished from the footbridge between our properties.We caught minnows, Tommy cods, and the occasional eel, but most times the eel won!
I graduated to fishing the little rivulets around the area catching Mountain Trout, a steely grey trout that grew up to 300 mm in size. They were edible but rather bland, but our cats loved them.
About the age of six, I had my first taste of saltwater fishing, a schoolmate and I fished off the local wharf and caught pakiti, a fish about 300 mm average and excellent eating.
I then started to go with my father and cousins around the rocky shore to catch snapper. We always got a feed of pan-sized ones and occasionally a nice one about 9 lb. (4 kilos). My dad always used a piece of chain for a sinker, he reckoned it didn’t get snagged so much. Of course, those days it was all cotton hand lines wound on a piece of stick and cast out by swinging the line around and around your head and letting it go at the right instant. That became an art in itself as I found out when my early casts ended up in the bush behind me!
I remember one day when my cousin hauled up a massive crayfish on his line, it had got hooked in the shell.
We always had fresh bait when fishing off the rocks as they were almost covered in mussels in that area, probably that accounted for all the fish we used to catch there.
A few years later, I sometimes had the chance to go out with another uncle who owned a launch and I remember my first trip with him and my other uncle out over the notorious Manukau bar west of Auckland. We went out some ten miles or so to fish the deep water. The two uncles put me between them about three feet away from me and baited my hooks with the same bait and proceeded to fish. The uncles were hauling in one and two fish at a time non-stop and I didn’t get one bite! I still to this day don’t know why we returned to shore with about 34 fish and I DIDN’T EVEN GET ONE BITE?
We lived in the village of Huia, about 36 km west of Auckland on the shores of the Manukau Harbour and we had access to a huge variety of seafood. Apart from the abundant snapper and crays, we went spearing flounder at night with a spear and hurricane lamp. At low tide, my Father and I would wade out on the seagrass flats and fill a sugar bag with scallops. My Mother and aunt would walk along the beaches and gather cockles, they made the greatest pipi pies and fritters.
Of course, mussels and oysters were always on the menu, and also cold smoked snapper!
When I was about thirteen I decided I wanted to follow in my Uncles’ footsteps and build a boat. They built clinker dinghies from the Kauri trees that they milled. They were masters at boat building. But my humble apology of a boat consisted of a wood frame about seven feet long covered with a canvas cover someone gave me. I got an old sheet from my Mother and a length of dowel for a mast and away I went sailing on the Manukau. One day I was sailing out about a mile offshore and I saw my uncle fishing in his dinghy so I sailed up to say “Hi”. He asked me if I would like a fish and I said yes. With that, he threw me one about three kilos and it landed in the bottom of my boat. But, as I headed to shore I noticed water was filling my pride and joy! The fish’s dorsal fin had holed the canvas! I had to sail to shore with one finger in the hole! Talk about the Dutch story!!! Eventually, the canvas rotted and its bones graced the bay’s shore for a few days.
At age seventeen I joined the RNZAF and that gave me some cash to build my second boat, a nine-foot centreboard yacht, self-designed and built of plywood. I cut a young Kauri tree from our property for a mast, and did I get an ear-bashing from my mother? She was a bit of a greeny. The rigging was aircraft control cable and as I was friendly with the girls in the fabric section on base, the sails were made by them out of aircraft linen.
The boat sailed well and served to catch many fish when I was on leave.
One time when my older brother came home for a holiday, he borrowed my boat to go fishing. On return, he anchored it in its usual place and when I went to get it next day, it was gone. No trace was ever found, we think someone stole it but no clues to who.
As my service career became busier, I did very little fishing until after my discharge.
By that time I was married to a girl from the famous Bay of Islands and therefore we spent a lot of time there, what an ideal situation for fishing! Of course, the next step was to design and build my next boat, a twelve-foot ply one. I built it in Auckland and transported it to the Bay one hundred and sixty miles north, on a roof rack on top of a Morris Minor! The trip was slow, to say the least, and great care had to be taken on corners and in windy areas.
Though we only had oars to power it with, we caught heaps of fish from it, mainly snapper but also several other varieties. The house was about 50 meters from the shore so I would go fishing at 6 am and be cooking a couple of snapper for breakfast at 7 am. I also had a cray pot and often caught crays a few meters offshore among the rocks. Those days are unfortunately now gone. Divers, power boats, trawlers and pollution have done their damage.
Anyway, back to the boat. We, (Wife and I) were rowing back to shore one morning in a moderate surf when one very large roller started pushing us, an offshoot from the Chilean earthquake of that year. You guessed it, it flipped us. Of course, I copped heaps of flak from my wife for tipping her out! When the tide went out the boat sat right way up on the beach full of water and took some time to empty with only a bucket. We lost most of our fishing gear. Next day I put an ad in the local shop and sold the boat.
Next, we bought an ancient yacht hull and powered it with a very old Evinrude outboard. That only lasted a few weeks because one morning we were out fishing and when I tried to start the motor, it burst into flame! As the tank was part of the motor and not being able to quell the flames, the only thing left was to unscrew the clamps and dunk the motor. I didn’t want to lose it so I hung on to it, and when the flames were out I pulled it back in. Luckily, I had on a thick jumper so I only got minor burns on one arm. That boat and motor were sent down the road smartly!
I started building another boat, a small cabin cruiser, but ran out of money and had to sell it half finished and the new owner got me to finish it for him. It was powered by an Austin 7 motor so you can imagine, it was no speedboat!
A few years later, I designed and built my next boat, a thirteen-foot open boat of plywood construction. At that time outboard motors were very hard to come by in New Zealand as there were strict import restrictions on such items. I was at the time working for the Mercury importer and I put my name down for a new 20hp motor. I was told it would be about 18 months to two years before I could expect it. So, I carried on and built my boat. It was finished and a trailer was constructed in about nine months so I began the big wait! About 3 weeks later I saw an ad in the newspaper, Chrysler had a few new motors for sale. I immediately rang up and ordered a 20hp one and travelled across town and bought it. If I remember rightly, it was priced about 600 pounds New Zealand.
Just one week later, my firm rang me to say my new Mercury had arrived! Of course, they had no trouble selling it to the next person on the list.
This new unit gave me a much wider fishing range, I could now get out about ten miles offshore among the big boys and consequently hammered the fishing scene every chance I got, and weather permitting.
We were friends with a Yugoslav family in our area and they were keen fishermen also. Among them was Uncle Steve, an old guy who made his own wine. Wine? More like 80% rum I think. A very volatile brew, I am sure the outboards would have run nicely on it! Anyway, one cold, grey, damp and windy day we decided to go fishing. There were 3 of us in our boat and 4 in theirs. Uncle Steve had brought along a half gallon flagon of his best mixture “to warm us up”. After several swigs each, they offered the jar to us. As the sea was too choppy to get the boats close enough to pass the jar, they dropped it into the sea and moved off so we could come in and pick it up. When we finished our swigs, we again dropped it into the sea for them to pick up. This went on until the jar was empty. Needless to say, we all felt cosy, warm and very happy!
By this time I was running my own business and had some contacts in the boat building business, so it wasn’t long before I had a new fourteen-foot fibreglass runabout and 50hp Mercury which gave me even more scope! I am now considering how game I was in that boat. With another boat I travelled nearly 200 miles down the east coast of northern New Zealand, often went around the outer islands of Auckland fishing, and many trips out deep.
I fished twice in Fiji. The first time I picked up a village family on the side of the road and gave them a ride into town. As payment, they insisted I went fishing with them. It sure was a hair-raising trip, there was about ten villagers and me in this very long and narrow boat if you could call it that, it leaked and had about 5 inches freeboard and they went out through a gap in the reef into the vast Pacific! Two guys were full time bailing as the sea was slopping in over the sides. I’m afraid I didn’t care if we got to fish or not, and was most happy to set foot on the shore again.
The second time we were staying on an island and every morning a boat would take the food scraps from the hotel out to the edge of the reef and empty them into about 30ft of water then drop in the lines for today’s fresh catch. I went with them one morning and was totally rapt to watch big fish take the lines, so clear was the water.
Back home again my big chance came. I saw in the local paper, a launch for tender. I went to see, it was a timber hard chine boat of 34 feet powered by a 60hp Fordson Diesel motor. It was built in the mid-30s as a whale chaser and was then just an open boat with a harpoon gun in the bow and powered by a Stutz 8 cylinder petrol engine. I was told by an old bloke that ran her for years, that in those days she was capable of speeds up to 37 miles per hour.
Along with her sister ship and mother ship, she went almost to Antarctica chasing whales. Now she had been converted into a game fishing boat but needed a lot of cabin alterations and repairs.
I put in a tender for thirteen hundred dollars and was successful. Then the work started. My fishing now was confined to rock fishing for some time, but that’s another story that I will go into later in the story.
We got a crane to lift the launch out of the water and onto a semi and transported it onto our front lawn where the work started. I rebuilt most of the cabin in a major way, and completely renovated the rest of it, built a toilet, kitchen and bunks for four.
We spent all our holidays and weekends on the water, anchoring in lots of little bays at night.
One day a couple of years later, a shipbroker made me an offer for it that I couldn’t refuse, so it was sold. The guys that bought it knew nothing about boats and almost sank it the next week. I heard later it was burnt out in some backwater near Auckland.
With the money, I paid off my home and bought a brand new 16-foot fibreglass boat with an 85hp Chrysler. A lot cheaper to own than the launch, and we could also go to other areas to fish.
As the years passed my children grew up and this boat became too much for me to handle on my own so it too was sold and replaced with a 12ft tinny, but that was a letdown so it too went by the wayside.
In between times and after selling the last boat, I took on serious rock and beach fishing with a 16ft cane surf rod. That was the best rod I have ever fished with. It was so alive.
I had a good mate that went fishing with me, and sometimes my son joined us, and we would head off about 3 am for some remote coastal spot. We always got a good haul and variety around daybreak. Tide did not seem to be a factor. Some gear was usually lost as the bottoms were often rocky and or loaded with marine growth.
Once we parked our Landrover on the side of the road and tramped through dense bush for about 20 minutes to a very likely looking spot on the map. We had been fishing about an hour and daylight had arrived when we became aware of someone behind us. It was two blokes on horses toting rifles. One of them started abusing us and threatening to shoot us if we didn’t leave immediately. We did not know this was Government land and he was the caretaker. Needless to say, we left very fast.
They did not ask us to leave our fish so I guess that was something.
Another time my mate and I were fishing in a spot where we had to cross a gutter and when we decided to go back we found the tide had turned and was about thigh deep. I always wore runners but my mate wore gumboots. I waded across first and when I got over Gary took off his boots and said he was going to throw them over to me. The gutter was only about 8 feet across so that was an easy throw. Gary gets wound up, swinging them around and around his head. Remember I told you about casting hand lines out? That was happening here but Gary hadn’t had the practice. Consequently, the boots sailed straight out to sea with far too much velocity never to be seen again. I had to lend him my socks to get back to the beach.
One morning we were fishing at dawn and had thirteen nice snapper which we were keeping in a rock pool. Along came a big wave and then we had only two!
My wife and I were fishing a couple miles up a lonely beach early one morning when I got a good strike. There was about a 3ft swell running and I didn’t want to loose this one so I set the drag and we gained and lost ground and worked a couple of hundred meters up the beach. After about 20 minutes I had finally worn the fish out and I could see it was a big snapper but I still had to beach it in the surf. By this time I was a bit tired and very dry. I finally got the fish out and suddenly heard clapping. Looking up I saw three guys who had been watching me. They handed me a stubby and said “You deserve this”. I tell you that was the best beer I’ve ever tasted!
We had to carry the fish two miles down the beach and by the time we reached our vehicle it was getting pretty heavy. No wonder! It weighed 18 pounds cleaned and is still the biggest fish I have ever caught from the shore.
We came to Australia 24 years ago, and we live a fair distance from the shore so don’t get a lot of fishing in, but now retired we have a 12ft tinny and 15hp Yammie and get down the river about once a month. I have fished the river banks quite often with mixed results. One trip I will always remember was two days at Sweers Island in the Gulf. Ten of us flew there in three planes, and we took the boats out to a reef and got loads of reef fish. That night we dragged nets to get bait for next day and in one haul with the net we got 60 trumpeter!
We packed up our eskies with fillets to bring home in the planes and we stopped at Barcaldine on the way home and booked in at a motel for the night and asked if we could put our fish in their freezer over night and that was OK by them. We then went across the road to the pub for a couple of drinks and dinner.
When we got back to the motel, the owner abused us, saying he had ordered in extra food and prepared dinner for our ten people. We had not at any time said anything about meals to them. So when we picked up our fish we discovered they had taken it out of the freezer and was all thawed and we still had a day’s flying ahead, so goodbye fish!
One day we were fishing in the river and got talking to a bloke and he had just caught a bucket full of prawns in his cast net. That fired me up so I rushed down town and bought a cast net visualizing at least half a bucket of prawns. After much trying we went home with only two prawns! We were not to be beaten, we cooked and ate them!
I have caught some unusual bags in our river, once I got this huge dead weight on and gradually got it to the surface, it was a huge turtle, I had hooked it on the edge of its shell. It didn’t even notice, I’m sure it was coming to the surface anyway and with a slight wave of its flippers it took off snapping my line!
Another time I hauled up this piece of stick about 6ft long covered in marine growth and was about to throw it back when I saw a number in red plastic shining through the growth. I took it home and got out the hydrochloric acid and washed it down to find a 6ft Ugly Stick fitted with a Penn 8500 reel. It had been in the sea for some time but I saved it and it works fine now.
Then once I saw a length of rope floating so I started pulling it up. My wife didn’t want me to haul it in, she thought it might have a body attached to it. However, it was a good anchor and chain.
Oh yes, I have even caught the proverbial old boot!
Reproduced by kind permission of the author. Copyright © Reed Evans 2006. Should you wish to do so you may contact the author: Please include “My Fishy Life” in the subject line of your email to: Reed Evans