Marlin – Mt Maunganui – Astrolabe Reef – Happy 60th Birthday
by Andrew Padlie
What do most people do for their 60th Birthday? Well, have a party of course. You get heaps of presents from loved ones. Then generally have a good time with your friends. Now you must be wondering where I am going with all this. Just imagine if your children shouted you a trip to go big game fishing for the day. You would have the chance at catching a marlin, shark or any other game fish species. Which are available during the summer months. A present like this would be one of the greatest gifts my children – if I had any – could ever give me.
This year we had one very lucky gentleman by the name of Doug Payton who turned 60 this year and his daughter and son gave him a gift of a lifetime. Now Doug had been fishing before but never Big Game Fishing. He was very keen to give it a go and was looking forward to spending the day on the water and hopefully catch a marlin. Before we left we almost convinced his
son Chris to join us. He could not find an excuse to tell the boss why he would be off work for the day. I could tell he was spewing at the thought of missing such a beautiful day on the water. Soon after Chris had gone we left the marina for the day.
After rounding Mount Maunganui we pointed Pasador towards a local marlin hot spot known as Astrolabe Reef. Astrolabe holds a great deal of baitfish during the summer months. With schools of kahawai and trevally there by the thousands. Everyone knows wherever you have small fish there is always going to be bigger fish nearby. In the case of Astrolabe Marlin, sharks and kingfish terrorise the local baitfish population. To all us fisherfolk that means we should be there. Upon arriving at the Astrolabe the kahawai and Trevally school’s were been worked really hard. Obviously something big was giving them the hurry up.
Like every trip, the first thing to do was to catch some live-bait for the day. Usually, a couple of circuits around the kahawai schools with small lures or ﬂies will see the live-bait tank stocked with at least five kahawai. Unfortunately, today, whatever was working the school fish had them so scared they were to busy watching their backs than eating. We managed to catch four kahawai to keep us going, for a start. One thing that is very common at Astrolabe is the amount of tailing marlin you see. If you know what you are looking for then you will probably see a lot of them. I mentioned this to Doug and told him to look for something that looked like a ﬂoating upright stick.
Also, they are usually away from the schools and are tailing away with the swells. This makes them easy to find and makes it even easier to present a bait to them. So now Doug knew what to look for and set about trying to find one. I had my eyes peeled as there is nothing more exciting than seeing a marlin cruising down the swells. Two baits were quickly rigged. Each where bridle rigged through the eyes and floated out on balloons. Both were placed certain distances apart to prevent tangling. The method we use to fish these baits is simple. We simply position the boat upwind from a school and simply turn the engine off and drift back towards the school.
We found a likely looking school near the south side of the reef. It was a large school that was foaming quite regularly. There had to be something big harassing them. Rod positioned Pasador upwind of the school and I placed the two baits so they would pass through the school and hopefully into a marlin’s mouth. It was about then I noticed the first tailer for the day. The fish was heading towards us and straight for the school. Lucky for the marlin he swam right past both baits and into the school of kahawai. Obviously he wanted all his cake and to cat it to.
Over the next two hours, we went from one school to the next. There were other boats at the reef and each was experiencing the same results as us. Apart from the odd kingfish, the marlin were suffering from lockjaw or sore bellies or something unnatural. I kept trying to catch fresh kahawai to help improve our odds for when that marlin happened to swim by. The only problem was each school proved hard to entice even a bite. There were two other baits left in the tank so I rigged them to replace the old ones. Then sent them on their way, hopefully into a waiting mouth of a huge predator.
Both baits were placed in the water behind the boat while Rod positioned the boat beside a very likely looking school of kahawai. This school was the best We had seen all day. Whatever was working it had the poor kahawai rounded into a tight ball that was swirling around and around.
There had to be marlin cruising around that school. One bait we had was positioned so it would pass right through the school. The other was right in close to the boat. It was then everything started to
happen. Another boat beside us hooked up to a marlin. It was amazing when the fish started to tail walk all around the ocean. The fish went between other boats and through schools around the reef Un-
fortunately for the angler and crew, the fish came unstuck during one of its jumps. That left the angler to wind all that lost line.
It was at least 10 minutes later when we saw another marlin tailing down the swells. Rod started the boat so we could try and intercept this fish. Somehow it had other ideas and we were unable to intercept it. So we went back to the reef and sat on the same school. All this action had Doug and ourselves excited over all the action and were just dying to get into the middle of it. Once again the baits were put back out and the engine turned off.
The day had turned into a real ripper. The sun was shining and the air had become hot. We all needed a drink to cool down. I reached into the fridge to grab some cold drinks when I heard this splash nearby. When I turned around I saw a huge hole in the water right where our live-bait just was.
Next thing we know the Tiagra 8OW is screaming out line at a rapid pace. Out towards the front of the boat, a marlin slashed the water with its bill into a foaming mess. It soon dawned on me that the marlin had taken our live-bait and was doing its best to inhale the poor little kahawai. We quickly got Doug into the chair and all harnessed up with the rod. The marlin was allowed to swallow the bait long enough before Doug pushed the lever to strike!
Rod had the boat started and powered away while Doug wound like a mad man to set the hook. The marlin reacted by jumping out off the water on a series of jumps as the hook found it’s home. It then proceeded to scream off metres of line much to Doug’s disliking on its first run. Rod had to dodge his way through the other boats and the reef which was very exciting stuff. At one stage during the fight, we all thought the marlin was going to go around the anchor of a small boat that was of all things fishing for snapper. Luckily for us, it decided to change direction and head for deeper water that must have seemed safer.
The marlin fought hard for a good forty minutes before the 37 kg line started to take its toll. It then came easily to the boat where I managed to take a few wraps on the trace and the marlin was almost ours. Rod came down from the flybridge to place the gaff into the fish’s shoulder. We then hauled the marlin aboard and Doug soon realised what he had achieved. He had seen the strike, set the hook and played it to the boat. It was all done like a pro who had caught hundreds before. Doug was set back at the whole show it was one of the most amazing things he had taken part in. He could now understand why people spend thousands of dollars each year trying to catch a marlin. Doug was very lucky himself to catch one on his first-ever trip. He must have been blessed by the fish Gods or King Neptune.
The rest of the day was action-packed. With five other marlin lost that day and a lot more tailing marlin spotted as well. We even had another two other fish harass our poor little live-baits later in the day. They both must have been full as they only played with the baits before heading on their way. There was even some big fish about as well. One fish we saw crash into a school of kahawai was a monster, in fact, the next day saw good friend Craig Pamwell, skipper of the charter boat Crow’s Nest land the 37kg NZ record Black Marlin of 424.1 kg’s at Astrolabe. That’s just short of a thousand pounds. Now imagine catching that in your 16 footer.
We were lucky that day, Doug had caught his first marlin that weighed in at 105 kgs. It was a very respectable fish in any location of the world. That’s how Doug Payton spent his 60 birthday. His daughter and son and both were glad at the gift they gave him. So there’s an idea for all you son’s and daughters out there. I am sure dad would love a birthday present like this no matter what his age is. Think about it.