Striped Marlin off the Coast of Taranaki
by Keith Chin – Cooking Your Catch in the Wok
We were fishing on the Swansong off the coast of Taranaki. The unusual amount of radio chatter during the Penn Sutherland’s West Coast One Base, a marlin tournament hosted by the New Plymouth Sportfishing and Underwater Club (NPSUC), had brought me back again. Having secured our entry fees late in January, as all entrants must be financial members of (NPSUC) or another affiliated club, and members of the International Game Fish Association (I.G.F.A.). The fish we were after was the striped marlin.
It took countless phone calls to sort out the final details and a huge shopping list for Malcolm, our skipper. Two weeks before we were due to ﬂy out we had our crew: Neil Bond, Ivan Cameron, Paul Stemmer, and myself.
Neil allowed me to have a window seat on the plane. I watched as the different contrast of the landscapes passed below us. The flat Canterbury plains soon gave way to the rugged Kaikoura Ranges and the deep blue water of Cook Strait. After a brief stop in Wellington and a change of aircraft, it was on to New Plymouth.
Upon arrival at New Plymouth, I’d discovered that my rod tube containing three rods and a tagging pole that Ross Le Compte had made for us for the trip was missing. After further inquiries, the staff had assured us that it would be delivered by taxi after seven that evening.
The shuttle bus dropped us and our gear at the locked gate at the breakwater. We had the daunting task of having to carry all our gear down to the marina at which the Swansong was berthed. Our second trip was made a great deal easier when a local introduced himself as “Sauce” carried the rest of our gear on the back of his truck.
I had a quick check of our stores that Malcolm had purchased. Our tea consisted of Cantonese Roast pork, Black Bean mussels and stirfry vegetables, Blue Cod with Lemon Grass and a hint of chillies, accompanied with steamed rice. After which we discussed our strategy. After some discussion, we agreed that we fished our own 24kg rods, with fifteen minutes on the two borrowed 37kg outfits.
Early Friday morning, we were on the water testing the gear. Neil borrowed my spare Shimano TLD5O, two speed. Ross Le Compte from New Brighton Sports Centre (closed following the Christchurch earthquakes), was kind enough to unwind a thousand metres of braid and spooled it up with 24kg IGFA line. Traces and doubles were measured twice to make sure they conform to the IGFA rules.
The outriggers were lowered, but unfortunately, we had no way of running the release clips. This job was left until we returned as the poles had to be lowered to the wharf.
Neil and Ivan enjoyed some great skipjack tuna action before heading back in for the four o’clock registration and briefing.
Out of 127 boats registered, we drew the number O06. We later learnt that there were a total of 442 registered anglers. Each area was given a sponsor’s name. By giving the sponsor’s name, and the depth of water, it made the radio operator’s job easier to keep track of all the boats. The operator had to be informed of all departures and arrivals back to port, together with all hook-ups, plus the loss, tagging, and capture of each fish!
After this formality of registration was completed, Neil and I headed into town for some last minute shopping for a few extra ingredients that things that Malcolm had overlooked.
I’d served up wok fried steaks with a slight hint of garlic and oyster sauce accompanied by corn on the cob, potatoes minus their jackets, sliced carrots, and florets of cauliflower and broccoli.
Saturday morning, the first day of the competition, we slipped our moorings early and headed out to the fishing grounds. Needless to say, there was a hive of activity. The outriggers were lowered, Malcolm notified the radio operator of our departure.
Eventually, the two 37kg outfits flanked our four 24kg rigs in the middle. The lures were skipping in the Swansong’s wake. We listened to the radio as other skippers reported their departure. It wasn’t long before fish were being called in over the radio all around us!
Suddenly there was a huge splash of white water behind the lure trolled by the borrowed 37kg Penn gear as an unseen fish struck and missed! Paul and Ivan changed their lures for the smaller tuna versions and were soon into some hot skipjack tuna action. But none of the skippies exceeded line weight.
We decided on a change of tactics in the afternoon. A chum line was started consisting of small chunks of skipjack tuna dropped overboard in an attempt to bring sharks to the boat. A whole skipjack was rigged and lowered into the berley trail on 37kg gear. While we waited patiently, Neil and I had a bottom fish. A gurnard for Neil and three mackerel for me! These were kept alive in our improvised bait tank.
I had rigged one of the mackerel for our troll back to port. The huge marquee was filled with contestants. Kay Saunders and Jim Hopkins kept us amused with the “raunchiest” deckie parade. However, it was the cook’s day off as we had all enjoyed a huge split-roast.
There was talk of a boat that had come across a meatball that was surrounded by twelve lit up marlin! The crew had thrown everything at these marlin without even a single hookup.
Sunday morning soon came. We were rudely awoken to the sound of the weather forecast. The engines were fired into life and we slipped out of the boat harbour still shrouded in darkness.
Neil was first to rig up, as a faint glow on the horizon told us that daybreak wasn’t far away, we could just see Neil’s Hooker lure in the boat’s wake, but we never saw the sudden strike!
The Shimano TLD 50 two speed protested loudly as the line began to disappear at an alarming rate. Malcolm gunned the Swansong forward to set the hook, before calling in the strike on the radio.
Neil casually appeared at the door to inquire who’s rod had the strike? Neil quickly grabbed his rod and sat on the Swansong’s “fighting chair.” I never saw the stripped marlin doing its tail-walk because I’d dashed into the cabin to get my camera to record the action.
With only a few turns of the line still left on the reel, Neil gave instructions to Malcolm to slowly back down on the fish. He then had to wind furiously to recover line.
Through the viewfinder, I had managed to film the head shakes as the marlin thrashed on the surface. Even from this long distance, the fish looked very impressive.
The deckie, Paul, soon had the deck cleared of all obstacles. The fly-gaff was made ready, along with the tag pole. We even had a pair of leather gloves in readiness.
But the fish was not done yet! The hard-won line was peeled back off the big Shimano. Eventually the double inched its way out of the dark blue water, and the Hooker lure skirt was riding high on the trace just beneath the surface.
I was forced out of the corner from which I had been filming. Just like my big yellowfin tuna a year earlier, Paul made no mistake in grabbing and holding the trace. Malcolm in one movement drove the ﬂying gaff home.
It took an almighty effort to haul the giant fish out of the water, and up over the side of the boat and onto the deck. After which time the crew became extremely exuberant and vocal. It was handshakes all around! Who could blame us? It was Neil’s first marlin, a first for Malcolm and his boat, and until now Paul, the deckie, had never even seen one!
Malcolm informed base of Neil’s capture. Closer inspection showed that the fish was hooked near the eye. It was hard to believe that Neil had fought this fish for forty minutes with the hook through just an inch of tough skin.
After we dragged it up the side of the boat, it was covered with towels and a mandatory hose down to keep it cool.
This time there was urgency as we reset our lures with the expectation of another big fish. After what seems like hours of trolling, Ivan changed his lure and within seconds, a very large and very angry mako went aerial!
The shark was almost at the boat when it rolled on the trace and the line parted.
I was in the hold, getting ingredients for a late lunch when Neil asked for his last can of beer. Since we didn’t have any Champagne on board to celebrate, I gave the can a vigorous shake before passing it up to Neil from the hold. It was sure to have the same effect as our winning the America’s Cup! As Neil pulled the tab my hand went out as I didn’t want a spray bath. The remaining beer was left in the can to settle. A cup of tea I had later had a very strong salty taste, pay-back I’m sure.
We headed back to port early and Malcolm radioed ahead to inform the weighmaster that we had a fish for weighing. Our thanks to Barry Braddock and his boat My Geisha, as Barry had waited 20 minutes for us to berth. The big marlin was transferred to My Geisha for the short trip across the harbour to his trailer waiting on the ramp.
There followed a slow drive to the weigh station through a huge crowd of onlookers. Without Barry’s help, we would have had a real struggle on our hands. Neil’s marlin weighed in at 127.5kg.
Later in the evening all of us spent time in the marquee helping Neil to celebrate. It was totally unexpected when the New Plymouth Sportfishing and Underwater Club, announced that it was presenting Neil with a tackle box and reel oil, in recognition of the Ferrymead Fishing Club’s first marlin caught as a team. The gesture was much appreciated.
The weather had decided to pack it in on the last day of the tournament. The strong winds increased in velocity giving the committee no choice but to cancel the last day’s fishing. The final prize giving was amended to 4.00pm.
Neil’s 127.5kg striped marlin taken on 24kg line earned 531 points, which gave Neil third place in the top points scoring marlin.
On our last night on the boat, Paul and Ivan had their tea at the clubhouse. The rest of us were quite content to wait an hour while I’d cooked on board. I less than an hour I had used up all the food that Malcolm had bought for us, and had produced four dishes. These were: Beef Black Bean with Vegetables, Curried Pork Chops and potatoes, Cajun Blue Cod, and a big pot of steamed rice. Kay and Peter (Sauce) Saunders joined us for dinner.
Our ﬂight home was in the afternoon. Sauce arrived at 9.00am. As I was keen to have my films developed, I passed my camera bag to Sauce as he was about to step off the boat and on to the wharf.
If I had the video camera going what happened next could well have been on either “Funniest Home Videos”, or “Moments Like These” on a Minties ad.
Sauce was still holding my camera bag when he slipped and went over the side, and under the water bag and all! Lucky for me the only things that suffered any water damage were my cell phone and a videotape. My cameras were still operational at the time of writing.
I rang the airport from Sauce’s house while he changed out of his very wet clothes. We had all thought that with the wind still blowing so hard that the airport might have been closed. But they assured us that it was business as usual. The taxi arrived a little late. So we requested that the driver notify the airport. The reply minutes later was not good. The airport had in fact closed, due they said to winds gusting above 50 kph.
Once back on board the Swansong, I’d re-booked our flights home with a 7.00am departure. For Neil and I, it was to be a brief stay in Wellington to catch up on old friends.
I don’t think that the wok has any limitations as I had managed to cook five cheese and egg burgers, and a double meat burger for our lunches.
I had a great time and experience with Malcolm aboard the Swansong. The same goes for the members of our crew members from our club. But I was a bit saddened to hear from Malcolm that this was his last charter. He was leaving the mainland at the end of the month and heading up to Tauranga.
I had a fantastic time. To have also caught a gamefish would have been a bonus. At least I was there to witness the thrill of the strike, listen to the scream of the reel when the marlin did its exhilarating run, the sight of a tail walking striped marlin, and at the end of the day, I didn’t have sore arms!
A special thank you to the locals. They made us feel very welcome. Especially the hospitality of Kay and Sauce, who made our short stay a memorable one. Trust me smoked marlin is absolutely divine.
Just two days after I had returned home from this trip I was on another charter to the Arahe Lodge situated in South East Bay in Pelorus Sound. More on this trip in my next article.
My wok recipe this month happens to be the same one that I had used for a cooking demonstration for members of the Kaiapoi Dive Club earlier this year.
Sliced Pauas with Fresh Vegetables
6 Pauas – cleaned and sliced thin.
1 broccoli cut into florets.
1 carrot sliced into rings.
1 red pepper – sliced.
6 thin slices of peeled sliced fresh ginger minced and finely chopped.
1 tablespoon of oil.
Seasoning and Sauces
3/4 teaspoon of salt.
1 / 2 teaspoon of Lee Kum Kee sesame oil.
1/ 2 teaspoon of Lee Kum Kee soy sauce.
1 nip of brandy
1/ 2 teaspoon of sugar.
Blanch all the vegetable. Remember that the thicker the vegetables the longer they take to cook. Heat wok, add oil and heat to smoking point. Add the minced ginger and garlic. Stir for a few seconds before adding the sliced pauas.
Stir rapidly for a minute, then add the blanched vegetables. Add the sauce and seasonings. Bring to the boil and thicken with a little potato starch mixed with water. Serve immediately.
Until next time, keep your line wet and your wok hot!
This article written by Keith Chin first appeared in Southern Fishing & Boating magazine in May 2000.