Marlin Hunting – The Quest for a Beakie – Game Fishing NZ

Displaying the skills of a surgeon, Skipper David Auld rigs a kahawai "skip bait. Marlin Hunting.
Displaying the skills of a surgeon, Skipper David Auld rigs a kahawai "skip bait.

Marlin Hunting – The Quest for a Beakie

By Dick Marquand

I read with great interest Chappie Chapman’s excellent article “Marlin Magic, Mania or Madness?” It brought back to me, memories of the endless planning, the exhilarating experiences, the great camaraderie, the frustrations, as well as the spending of thousands of dollars on travel and
chartering game fishing vessels. At the end of it, like Chappie, I have yet to land my first marlin. Marlin hunting can be a frustrating game!

In the early seventies, I spent a week with Pat Burstall (then Conservator of Wildlife in Rotorua) fishing for tuna at Waihau Bay, from his twin outboard-powered boat.

While trolling the lazy swells near Cape Runaway, I watched a striped marlin clear the water in several greyhounding leaps. No, we did not hook the marlin, instead, it hooked me causing a substantial hole in my bank balance over the following years. When I transferred from Rotorua to Queenstown with the New Zealand Wildlife Service in 1974, my interest in game fishing turned towards the game sharks and southern bluefin tuna.

The charter game fishing vessel "WAIMANA " with a small stripey tied across the boarding platform. The high tuna tower is a big advantage when on the lookout for fins and other pelagic activity. Marlin Hunting.
The charter game fishing vessel Waimana with a small stripey tied across the boarding platform. The high tuna tower is a big advantage when on the lookout for fins and other pelagic activity.

In 1978, I entered a partnership with three other keen big game anglers owning the game fishing launch “Samara” which was moored in Milford Sound. For ten years we fished the southern fiords and the rugged Fiordland coastline, claiming one World Record and eight New Zealand Records on tuna and sharks. When one of the partners passed away, the financial burden of the costs associated with owning the boat became too much for my meagre income. In 1985, I sold my share of Samara and decided to concentrate on my efforts for a “beakie.”

In 1984, I developed a taste for marlin fishing when I chartered a boat for a week to fish Mayor Island, waters that in past years had produced huge billfish, sharks and tuna for fortunate anglers. It was on this trip that I was able to see striped marlin “finning out,” a very exciting sight which made me even more determined to catch one of these wondrous fish. I had this chance beside the obsidian cliffs of Mayor Island when a stripey hit a trolled red and yellow Sevenstrand Kona, however, the marlin failed to hook up.

A further week was spent with Craig Smith fishing for marlin from the game fishing launch Conchita in the deep blue waters surrounding the Poor Knights Islands, again without an engagement.

Captain Lepanui (right) and deckie Tui (left) with the author’s only billfish to date, a respectable Pacific sailfish from Fijian waters.
Captain Lepanui (right) and deckie Tui (left) with the author’s only billfish to date, a respectable Pacific sailfish from Fijian waters.

Fijian Waters

My quest for a “beakie” took me to Fijian waters during April 1984. While trolling the tropical blue waters off Beqa Island with Captain Fred van Wiles aboard the Pacific Harbour game fishing vessel Marau, we watched an angler hook up on a marlin close to a fish aggregation device (F.A.D.). The engagement was short-lived, the marlin, a respectable fish of around 100kg, broke off after two high twisting leaps.

A couple of days later, I chartered the Fijian Hotel’s game fishing vessel, Fleet Lady. We had been trolling for most of the day and as it was midafternoon, Captain Lepani Cegunaivalue decided that it was time to think about heading back to base. The sea was oily smooth and the heat in the sun was almost unbearable. When I saw the deckie Tui shake his head, I felt sure it was not to be my day.

Moments later, the line in the port outrigger clip twanged free and the ratchet on the Penn Senator 9/0 screamed as something connected with a skipjack tuna “swimbait.“ As I took the rod from the rod holder, the pressure came off.

“Sailfish!” yelled Tui. I caught a glimpse of a long silvery flash about 40 metres from our stern. Again the bait was taken and again it was dropped. When I wound the bait in, I found only the head of the skipjack still attached to the hook.

Two minutes later, the starboard outrigger pulled back and the 15kg line flicked free from the outrigger clip. Something had taken the double hooked mackerel pattern Sevenstrand Clone. As the Wynrod Sea Lord rod curved back in the rod holder with the Penn Senator 6/0 ratchet screaming, a Pacific sail-
fish exploded from the sea in a sheet of spray only 20 metres behind Fleet Lady. With the sunlight glistening off its sides and extended dorsal fin, it was a sight I will always remember.

As I took hold of the rod and made myself comfortable in the fighting chair, the sailfish put on a spectacular exhibition. It cleared the water ten or a dozen times twisting and shaking its head from side to side, then ran out around 200 metres of line.

As I worked the gear and slowly regained line, Captain Lepani ensured that at all times, I was facing the fish. About fifteen minutes after hookup, I was able to work the sailfish close enough to the boat for me to get a brief glimpse of it, just below the surface. The fish then took line, finishing the run with a leap, however, the strain was obviously beginning to tell as this time, only half of its body cleared the water.

I decided to finish the fight standing up so that I could get a better view of the fish. It lay on the surface exhausted with the sail extended and the sides glistening with intense hues of purple and golden copper. A long sharp bill extended in front of the large eyes.

As the swivel came swivel to the rod tip, Tui took the leader and eased the fish beside the boat. When Captain Lepani put the flying gaff into the shoulder of the sailfish, it did not struggle, I am sure that it was dead. I felt a little overcome with emotion in being responsible for the death of such a beautiful fish. I had however fulfilled one of my angling ambitions by landing a Pacific sailfish.

The two 8/0 hooks were firmly embedded in the upper jaw of the sailfish, I was thankful that I had spent the time honing the hooks to razor sharpness. Once the fish was secured to the transom, I shook hands with my skipper and deckie, thanking them for a day I would always remember. I had no intention of continuing fishing, I was completely satisfied, so Captain Lepani pushed the throttles forward and we headed back towards the passage through the coral reef.

The scales on the wharf pulled down to 47.6kg (105lb) and it was the heaviest sailfish to that date caught during the 1984 season from the Fleet Lady.

Marlin Hunting at Mayor Island

The following year, I returned to spend a week marlin hunting in Mayor Island waters in the company of my good friend Geoff McDonald. We came very close to hooking a stripey and would have done so if the skipper had not been irresponsible.

We had spent the night in Sou East Bay and at 0900 hours headed out into a slight northerly swell. Behind the boat was a fine procession of lures as well as a mahi and a skipjack tuna set up as “skip baits.” My favourite lure was amongst the procession, a pink and blue Schneider All Eye, a lure which had the reputation of being absolutely deadly on marlin.

Late in the morning while trolling through an area of deep purple oceanic water of 23deg. C, a resectable striped marlin showed up behind the boat. Its striped sides, pectorals, dorsal and bill were lit up in a hue of intense iridescent blue. As it slipped in behind the Schneider lure, I could feel my heart thumping with anticipation.

All of a sudden, the oil alarm bell went off signalling a problem with the boat’s big diesel engine. The skipper shut the motor down and as we slowly lost way, the marlin went to town trying to take the lure. I pulled on the line to give the lure motion but the fish turned off the lights and disappeared from sight.

Before the week was out, we saw other marlin, however, I am sure that we had missed our best chance. Had the skipper checked the-oil level that morning before we got underway, I am sure things would have worked out differently. Needless to say, I did not engage the services of that skipper again.

Geoff flew back to Queenstown while I headed“ north to be part of Team Conchita fishing the 13th Annual Bay of Islands International Billfish Tournament. This competition brought it home to me just how hard marlin fishing can be.

We had better luck than most, five minutes before the final day, a striped marlin struck one of our skip baits but failed to hook up. This was the only marlin we saw during the five-day competition. In all, 85 teams consisting of 260 anglers entered the tournament, and yet only three striped marlin and one black marlin were landed.

A week later, I fished from Conchita during the six-day Tutukaka One Base Contest. A total of 142 teams representing 611 anglers landed ten stripes, the largest weighing 143.5kg (315.5lb). Again our team did not fare well. My quest for a “beakie” was proving to be a lot harder than I had expected.

Marlin Hunting back at Tutukaka

The late summer months of 1986 found my wife Joanne and me back at Tutukaka fishing from Conchita near the Poor Knights Islands.

It was skipper Craig Smith who spotted the marlin fin in behind the starboard skip bait “hunting” the offered morsel. The fish was lit up with its pectorals, dorsal and striped sides displaying a brilliant iridescent blue. A bill broke the surface and in an instant, the line twanged free from the outrigger clip. The belly of slack line came up tight and the ratchet on the Penn Senator 9/0 screamed in protest.

Joanne lifted the big curved butt game rod from the rod holder and sat into the fighting chair. As Craig gunned Conchita forward, Joanne applied the star drag, but in that instant, I knew that the marlin had dropped the bait. We were all flooded with disappointment as Joanne retrieved a completely scaled kahawai skip bait hanging by its tail to the hook.

I immediately removed a live kahawai from the live bait tank and put a game hook through its back, just under the dorsal fin. After attaching the steel leader to the other 37kg outfit, I put the struggling bait over the side whereupon it swam down into the deep blue water. I applied a light drag to the reel, engaged the ratchet then turned my attention to retrieving the outrigger clip from the top of the outrigger pole. Suddenly, the Penn Senator 10/0 ratchet screamed as something nailed the unfortunate kahawai.

Joanne took the strike and got back into the fighting chair, tightening the star drag as Craig took Conchita forward. This time, the big 37kg rod curved down as the line came up tight. Almost immediately, a marlin thrashed the surface nearby with its head only half clear of the water.

“It’s choking,” said Craig; “we may have to take it before it throws the hook.”

I clearly wanted Joanne to catch a marlin, but not under these circumstances. As Craig made a wide circle of the fish, I turned the fighting chair ensuring that Joanne was at all times facing the fish. The big fish returned to the surface violently shaking its head and this time I saw the kahawai bait thrown clear. In an instant, the marlin recovered and a high leap was followed by a long fast run.

For another 30 minutes, Joanne kept a tight line on the fish. Gradually she won line and then the knot of the double line broke the surface. Craig left the controls as the steel trace broke the surface and he took it in his gloved hands. The marlin was lit up in a spectacle of intense blazing blue. It was all but finished but as Craig tried to ease it closer within reach of the flying gaff I was holding, pressure came on and Craig let the trace go.

The marlin slowly swam away from the boat but within a few minutes, Joanne had the steel trace back within Craig’s reach. The fish was completely played out. I put the first gaff into the shoulder and followed this with a second gaff. A few minutes later the marlin was securely tied across the boarding platform of Conchita. Joanne had landed her first marlin, a respectable stripey which later weighed in at 102.7kg (226lb).

Joanne with her first marlin, a respectable stripey from the Poor Knights area.
Joanne with her first marlin, a respectable stripey from the Poor Knights area.

The Quest for a Beakie Continues!

I would like to report that in the following years, I was able to land my first marlin. Despite several more trips to the winterless north in search of a “beakie,” I am still awaiting the pleasure of this experience.

So whenever I see Chappie, which is usually every second month, it is usually, “Dick, I’m planning a fishing trip to Tonga. Care to come along?” or “Would you be keen on fishing for marlin with me next season at the Bay of Islands?”

Truth is Chappie, I’d dearly love to join you, it’s only the dollars that are stopping me from more marlin hunting.