We Boated Past the Graveyard of over 125 Shipwrecks
By Warwick Judkins
You wanna catch a marlin? I first heard these words when I was going to Auckland for my mum’s 80th birthday at Christmas and my brother suggested going to Paihia for five days after the event and maybe doing some fishing. On the 2nd of January, we set off from the wharf on one of the latest additions to the Bay of Islands charter ﬂeet. It was a very eventful day, I landed my first 8 lb 1 oz. grandchild; Grandma was overwhelmed at this world record which was the only catch that day. So $500 lighter we drowned our sorrows once again. This story is about our West Coast Striped Marlin fishing adventure.
It was over this session that my brother Don, the “French Pass Pianist”, said I’ve got a mate on the West Coast who’s got a farm on the Kaipara harbour, got a 24 footer and has offered to take me out fishing at any time.” ”Yeah sure bro’, what about jacking it up,” I replied. A month later and it was all arranged, a few hurried phone calls, what rods to take, do I need lures? gimbal? harness? Nope, all the gear is provided. Oh well, take up some bourbon maybe shout them a few beers eh. No, he doesn’t drink, okay sort that out later.
At 10 pm on the 5th of March, I’m on the cheapie to Auckland. Picked up by Don at the airport and over to the North Shore. Friday was a wasted day and at midnight Friday, I was trying to set an uncooperative alarm clock for four the next morning. Both of us woke up at 3 am., had some breakfast and on the road. Two hours later we arrived at the farm on the edge of the Kaipara Harbour. Bit of sorting out, gear on the boat, lunches etc. Grabbed the tuna out of the freezer Oust tossed in there with kahawai, mackerel etc. to be used whenever). Five-minute drive to the ramp, last check of everything about to launch and I saw the old rusty weighing gantry. I said to Jason (our host and skipper) ”ever get used?’. “Sure” he replied, “they weighed 25 marlin there one day.” Sure, I thought to myself, must’ve been great in the olden days. “Two weekends ago,” he continued. Shit, I was glad I’d kept that thought to myself, and away we went.
We had four on the boat. Jason the skipper, Bones his son-in-law (the deck boy for the day), my brother Don and me. A 30km ride at 25 knots just to get to the open sea. Got to a massive work-up where the harbour channels out to the sea, threw the gear out and had some fun with the kahawai. Twenty minutes later we were away but not before Jason gave us a brief rundown of the area.
We had to head North, parallel to the beach for at least another 10km till we had safely boated past the bar over an area called the graveyard; home to over 125 shipwrecks.
Man, this was one mean sea; the crashing of the sea on the bar, the enormous swell lifts over the shallows. If ever respect, and maybe a prayer was needed it was here.
We stopped just short of the last of the bar protection and called up Coastguard. Jason had already told us that he was not going outside without another boat:- no one else was out.
We slowly turned around from the beckoning sea and maybe a small prayer silently said by all was answered as the next moment we heard, “Coastguard this is Mr Finger, launching off the beach at The Sands. Is there another boat out?” We were off ﬂat tack to an area about 16km away in approx. 60 to 70 metres. Ten minutes into the trip when we heard the call “This is Mr Finger, hook up.” Christ is this Mecca or what!
After seeing two Makos we reached the spot; the water was that black-blue colour as clear as you could get at the best of times. Out with the gear; an outrigger on each side, one with a daisy chain plus 4 other rods all set up with those thingy-whatsits-that you tie on to entice whatever, then a very stern lesson and dummy run on what to do, not if we hook up but when we hook up. Harness and gimbal straps set for the right length, take this rod first then that one if we hook up on this side or that one etc.
Twenty minutes later Mr Finger had landed a Black Marlin which was queried by a few doubters on the radio but was subsequently confirmed later that day.
West Coast Striped Marlin Fishing – No panic, just organised chaos
At 10:15 am the starboard outrigger had a hit, 30 seconds later all hell broke loose. The port Penn loaded with 24kg line and the only one with a teaser or daisy-chain on it went mad. I had never seen so much line peel off so quick. N0 panic, just organised chaos. Bring in that rod, put on the gimbal, the harness, all rods away, skipper still motoring away from the marlin. Aft deck clear, now I can finally pick up the rod. The drag was pushed up the strike setting a good two minutes after the strike. ”WIND, WIND,” shouted Bones, keep the line tight at all times, so I wound. “Use your harness, bend your knees, straighten up, wind.”
About 50 miles away the Marlin jumped, jumped again and then a third time. That was the only time she came out of the water. ”She’s turning,” said Bones, ”wind, wind, bend those knees, get the bloody line tighter, you wanna lose it?” No, I didn’t want to lose it, shit I wished I’d taken up tiddlywinks.
“Can’t we sort of back up to him,” I pleaded to my host? This fish has got to be the biggest fish ever caught and I needed some help. WIND, BEND, PUMP, WIND was the only reply. I retrieved 100, 200, 300 metres of line. ”Line’s going slack’ said Bones, Jason guns the engine. I lose 100, 200, 299 metres before I start gaining line again.
I noticed blood on the reel, funny the marlin’s out there and there’s blood here. Ha, the old white collared grandfather has got blisters already. Please why can’t I be home changing shitty naps, anyone else want a turn. “Wind, wind,” says Bones. I’ll give him f#%& bones when I get my hands free. ”She’s going down,” says Bones, “more power on (not mine, the engines) and try to pull her back up.” She slowly rose until the line was almost parallel with the surface, only 100 metres to go; any sign of the leader or daisy chain; nothing.
Then 50 metres, wind like you’ve never wound. I bet that was Bones. ”Why is she nearly at the boat, don’t want to break any gear or risk losing her,” I asked. “if you don’t,” said Bones, ”that shark over there is going to have her.” There was a hammerhead shark over half the length of our 24ft tinny, man did I wind! Thanks to Jason’s skill he kept the boat between the marlin and the shark.
We got the marlin alongside, tagged her, (they tag all marlin at the boat as this is where most fish are lost) and then I decided to keep her as the hammerhead was still sniffing around and Jason thought the chances of survival were thin. Also ]ason had offered to smoke any fish we caught. We cruised around for another hour with no luck so back to base. Called up the harbourmaster and had a welcoming committee at the wharf. Photos all around, 85.5kg on 24kg line, just slightly under the 90kg minimum that they like to take. Back to the farm, refuel, hot roast and into bed by 9:15 pm.
Awake at 6 am. breakfast at 7 and on the water by 8. Two or three boats were out today so there was no hold up at the bar. Nice day, 10 to 15-knot wind, little swell and a chop on the top. New skipper Jason, (the other Jason’s son) and Bruce his younger brother. All the gear out except the daisy chain, use a squid chain this time.
One Mako sighted we go round him twice, not interested, so keep going. Another Mako, no good. Jason retires up to the front bunk, I fall asleep on the aft-facing seat and off goes the Penn. On goes the belt, gimbal etc. Don’s turn this time, same routine as yesterday, marlin to the boat, shark hook and wire trace ready and baited but no sign of any predators. Marlin tagged and released slightly smaller than yesterday but man what a buzz for us two townies.
We decided to call it a day and go back into the harbour and try for snapper. On reaching the magic spot, 5 metres dropping sheer to 11 metres, we chucked out the anchor and fished using a conventional blue cod set up, two hooks, sinker on the bottom, chunk of kahawai or whatever is handy. Line sent down, bite 30 seconds later, Snapper on board.
One hour later we had a limit bag of 60 1.5 – 2kg fish, plus 3 Trevally on board. Back to the farm, fillet, pack the car, grab the smoked fish, have tea and off to Auckland. A great pity no commercial charters work out of this area, but then again maybe it’s a good thing. Wanna catch a Marlin, yeah I did, and I did. My special thanks to my wife Carolyn for letting me go, Don for teeing it up, and Jason and company for their excellent hospitality and fishing skill. It was a West Coast Striped Marlin fishing adventure I will never forget..