French Pass, D’Urville Island – Dangerous Passage – Maurice Scoble’s Biggest Kingfish

French Pass, D’Urville Island – Top Yellowtail Kingfish Spot

Plus French Pass Kingfish by Maurice Scoble (scroll down).

by Roy Jones

French Pass is a beautiful and rewarding fishing location. It is a top spot for yellowtail kingfish. For those of you fishing it for the first time, it can be quite daunting. That’s good, never lose that respect, for although it is a very productive area to fish it is not to be taken lightly and can be dangerous.

Enormous forces are generated there and while engrossed in the excitement and heat of the moment when fishing, should you let your guard down for a moment you may receive at the least a very bad fright and potentially a fatality.

Keith Wood with a solid looking kingfish taken at Fresh Pass, D’Urville Island, in the outer Marlborough Sounds. A top spot for kingfish! Photograph: Allan Burgess.

There are two main passes to traverse the waterway, the first being the obvious 100-metre wide channel between the lighthouses on the southern side of the passage. This has the main water flow and therefore the greater turbulence. Approach with caution and observe for a period of time the flow directions and location of the greatest disturbance. Careful observation will show that there are areas where the flow is least and may generate back eddies with minimal disturbance. Use these to avoid the heaviest disturbance.

Divert away from the main flow as soon as possible; vortexes and whirlpools can appear unexpectedly and without warning. To enter these can deflect craft sideways with enough violence to cause the occupants to be flung out. All crew should be braced and hanging onto strong handholds on the boat when passing through the Passage.

The other passage is nearest to the D’Urville Island side and is known as Fisherman’s Passage. This is considerably narrower and while it is navigable should not be negotiated without some experience in the area first.

The tidal flow through French Pass is either south-west or northeast with minor fluctuations due to the state of the tide or eddies. Always fish on the downstream side of the main reef. There are two main reasons:

1. SAFETY Should you have a motor breakdown you will drift onto the reef before your anchor has time to grab plus rescue causes considerable danger to other parties.

2. PRACTICALITY Should you hook up on a fish, it is not possible to fight it whilst making headway against the current. It will immediately take you downstream onto the reef and bust off. On a south-west flow (incoming tide), fish the Fisherman’s Passage on the southern side. This is the most productive area of the whole Pass. There is a retro eddy which peels off from the main southerly flow and sweeps into the small bay on D’Urville Island. It is safe to allow the boat to be swept downstream away from the Fisherman’s Passage while fishing this flow.

After about 150-200 metres you will generally find that the boat curves into the small bay and heads back up to the Passage again. This is generally known as The French Pass Waltz.

View to the south-west from French Pass across the Current Basin towards Tasman Bay – D’Urville Island is to the right of the picture. Photograph Allan Burgess.

This manoeuvre is quite safe and several boats may participate simultaneously provided you follow a basic and accepted protocol.

1. Do not inject yourself over the top of other craft, enter from the downstream side and allow the current to dictate your position within reason.

The author with the gaff lifts a big kingfish aboard after it was hooked on a jig in French Pass.

2. Do not cast over other lines or allow your line to drift out and away from your boat too much as this will snag the bottom or other lines.

3. Expect some entanglement with others and co-operate. Do not allow your jig to loiter too long near the bottom as there are considerable amounts of Sea Tulips which eat jigs. If you hook the bottom, expect to break off quickly. Do not motor up on it trying to free it as other boats will be drifting down onto you. Making your own jigs and sinkers.

4. Your outboard motor may be switched off once you are comfortable, with the circular motion of the eddy. Be prepared to start it quickly though as boats may occasionally be swept together very quickly and need reversing apart.

5. If you hook up, allow your boat to drift out downstream away from the other craft. Do not try to winch the fish in too quickly as it will panic even more and break you off on the bottom near the Pass where there is considerable foul ground. Gentle treatment initially will allow you to drift downstream to calmer and deeper less congested water where you will have more chance of landing it.

6. Provide other anglers with a wide berth if they are hooked up; definitely, do not cast near another’s fish.
On the northerly or ebbing flow, a larger area is fishable; however, it has considerably rougher water. This side has some huge pressure waves and can easily swamp most trailer boats. Treat with extreme caution!

Mostly these big kingfish were hooked on jigs as the boats drifted through the pass at the speed of the current. This fish weighed 12.5kg (27.5lb). They are tremendous fighters and many would bust off on underwater obstructions.

Firstly, be extremely sensible and cautious when fishing French Pass. Do not get into the situation of possibly falling overboard. Secondly, do not fall in. Thirdly, if someone falls over the side while they are fishing . . . IMMEDIATELY PASS TO HIM THE TIP OF YOUR ROD

Secondly, do not fall in. Thirdly, if someone falls over the side while they are fishing . . . IMMEDIATELY PASS TO HIM THE TIP OF YOUR ROD

Thirdly, if someone falls over the side while they are fishing . . . IMMEDIATELY PASS TO HIM THE TIP OF YOUR ROD
Do not bother shouting for help or looking around for the life ring or motoring back to him. ESTABLISH and MAINTAIN CONTACT WITH HIM IMMEDIATELY.

ESTABLISH and MAINTAIN CONTACT WITH HIM IMMEDIATELY. He can be swept away from the boat in seconds and regardless of lifejackets, may be submerged due to aerated whitewater or whirlpools. You can lead him back to the boat, but let others throw ropes or lifebuoys etc. MAINTAIN CONTACT
Please behave courteously and treat others and the French Pass, D’Urville Island, area with respect. Good Fishing.

d’Urville Island Wilderness Resort Fishing Charters

A big kingfish taken on a jig in French Pass.

Maurice Scoble “king” of the kingfish anglers shown here with a 26 kg (57 lb) kingi he caught from the turbulent waters of French Pass.

French Pass Kingfish by Maurice Scoble

The events in this story happened in the early 1990s.

I have been fishing for snapper in the Sounds since I was 10 years old and I knew this time of year (November/December) is when a lot of big fish arrive to feed and breed. In previous years we had travelled to Havelock around Canterbury Show weekend and had considerable success catching 18 to 25-pound snapper. This year however was to turn out a bit different and with cooler water temperatures the snapper fishing was very slow. Commercial set netting in Kenepuru didn’t help either.

Boiling Waters

Secondly, there was something else more challenging that we wanted to be hooked up on – namely, Kingfish. Last year, I had three weeks in French Pass and D’Urville area catching 17 kingfish, this year the Pass beckons again. A few club members and I have eagerly awaited the chance to test our skill and tackle on the very formidable and superb fighting kingfish that lurk in those boiling waters up there. ‘

Show weekend saw me start my holidays arriving at Havelock late Thursday night. I have Barry O’Sullivan with me, a new Canterbury Sportfishing club member, but a veteran of some of my previous trips. I also have Wayne Anderson with me in his new boat Pioneer III which he was keen to try out.

Snapper Fish

Friday, 13th we launched at Havelock and headed out into the Sounds. We had a snapper fish at No. 1 marker on the way. It was very quiet and I lost one fish after as many strikes. As I had organised to have a kingfish competition for the benefit of Canterbury Sportfishing Club members that were up there for the long weekend the next day, we decided to keep on heading out and stay the night moored in Elmslie Bay ready for an early start.

The forecast was ominous but we were optimistic. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was correct and about 2 am it blew up. By clay break things were looking a bit grim, with the weather deteriorating, I had to cancel the competition. Very frustrating. Nevertheless, as we were leaving the area for more sheltered waters and safety I just had to have a couple of casts in the Pass. It looked quiet but under one of those turbulent rapids lurked a kingfish. I landed a 39 pounder after a twenty-minute battle. Not a bad start, I thought, as soon as the weather improves we will definitely be back. By the way, club member Graham Sinclair in his boat Buccaneer with Godfrey Tulkens and Reg McClintock had some good catches in the two days before the weekend.

South East Gales

Well, a week later and the weather was still bad with southeast gales in Cook Strait. Barry and I decided the only way to get back into fishing out there was to tow the boat out to French Pass by road, a worrying three-hour journey on a notorious, but scenic route. We arrived in Elmslie Bay with no problems and the sun was shining, although it was windy. We feverishly pitched the tent as we couldn’t wait to be out on the water, swimming some jigs in the Pass.

I met a bloke in Havelock who was a marine mechanic, Garry McLean, who seemed a decent sort of a chap and loved fishing, just the sort of person who would enjoy catching kingfish so Barry and I invited him out for the weekend.

Absolutely Useless

“What sort of rod do you have Garry?” I said, and he produced this thing that looked absolutely useless. “No, too light,” I said tactfully, “that rod would break, never mind I have one you can use,” “And the reel so long as it can retrieve quickly,” I instructed, that is essential. Armed with some Grim Reaper jigs, he was ready to do battle.

“I can’t wait to see the look on your face when you hook one Garry,” I said jokingly, “Last year Barry’s first fish spooled him completely on that reel before I could get the motor started.” Just as well he tied a good knot because we did actually manage to land the fish. I don’t think Garry really knew what he was in for. “Don’t be too disappointed if you lose your first kingfish?” I said to Garry, “I lost three here last year before landing my first kingi ever.”

Into The Pass

Into the Pass, we went with its boiling and turbulent waters heading over to the other side of the reef to a small passage called Fishermans Pass.  Barry and Garry had their jigs airborne before I even cut the motor. lt was a good spot as the current makes a big eddy and you just go around and around
in this small bay casting and retrieving as you go. I have found it to be a definite advantage to have the motor off as kingfish belong to a species of fish that can “hear”, that is why poppers with rattles work well, and the bark of a motor underwater, especially outboards, spook the fish. This is why I never troll for kingfish.

Well would you believe it, Garry hooked up first (beginners luck) and a good fish peeled line off his reel. One of my greatest pleasures in fishing is watching someones face first time out or being introduced to a different type of fishing hook up straight away into a big fish. Garry suddenly appreciated what king fishing was all about. It was hard work. The rod I lent him was bent to the waterline and the reel’s drag was making torturous sounds. Also, the fish got to the rocks and broke off.

Garry Stood Shaking

“Never mind,” I said to Garry as he stood there still shaking from the crashing strike, “tie on another jig and get back into it.”

Well, he did, his next fish he had on a lot longer, we actually had it to the boat at one stage but the kingfish had other ideas and after diving for the bottom again it, unfortunately, pulled the hook. It was turning out to be a typical kingfish day as I lost four fish before landing three average size kingis weighing 11kg (24lb) 13kg (28lb) 15kg (33lb). Barry hooked nothing, it just wasn’t his day. I lost another three fish that day before we went back to camp.

We ran into some other clubmates in the Pass, Garry Wilson and Howard Lewis and co in their boat Avenger. They were also having a great time feeding jigs to the kingfish. They had been in the pass for a week now and had made some good catches. That was day one.

The next two days we lost every fish we hooked, nine kingfish taking off with our jigs. Things were looking a bit grim on the reaping side as our tackle stocks were being depleted rapidly. The wind ranged, forcing us to fish only in the Pass, where although calm because of the current, the reef was aiding most of the kingfish to escape. It was too rough to venture further afield. We weren’t the only ones having fun with the weather. The big oil rig JFP Eleven which has been standing in Admiralty Bay for the last few years was being shifted off to I believe Argentina, having to be floated onto a huge ship that sunk itself down and refloated under it. They had to wait four days until it was calm enough. We had the privilege of going aboard the tug Toia from Wellington and being shown around just after the operation as completed.

We gave the crew a kingfish to have for lunch. It was hilarious watching them all getting their photos taken holding it up with a sprat rod!

The Wind Stopped

Finally, day four saw the wind stop and the rain started. But it was calm and after the thrashing, we were getting in the Pass it was time to head further up D’Urville Island to a point where previously it had fished well. It was to be our saviour as we got some very hot action with Barry redeeming himself, finally hooking some good fish. Also catching the kingfish in the open, away from the rocks, was definitely a big plus as our landing rate increased dramatically.

It all started to happen around two o’clock in the afternoon, I had landed a 27-pound kingfish earlier that morning which we gave to the tug crew and after leaving them we decided to have some lunch.

I anchored my boat Blue Yonder, a Figlass Viscount, in a lovely sheltered bay. It was raining only lightly and the water was oily smooth.”Last time I was here” I said to Barry, “I saw a big school of kingfish cruise by with their yellow tails sticking out of the water”.

When Least Expected

I don’t think Barry took much notice as he was only concerned about his stomach and what he was about to feed it. As it goes with a lot of fishing, the fish often turn up when least expected. This was no exception. I was cooking a pie in the gas oven and Barry had just built a couple of beaut sandwiches. The gear was all over the deck and I was trying to glue some poppers that had come apart, we couldn’t have been taken more by surprise. Barry just said quietly “Oh look, what’s that over there”. I was too interested in the pie which was just done and ready to serve. “You had better take a look, Maurice,” he said again. What the hell was he on about, I thought, and reluctantly parted company with the now burning pie. I slowly gazed up over the water in the direction of his pointing finger.

“Sh@t! it’s a HUGE school of kingfish”!” I exclaimed. They were about a hundred metres away slowly heading towards the boat, cruising with their yellow tails clearly visible out of the water. Suddenly all hell broke loose. I was like Captain Bligh yelling at Barry to get the anchor up fast. The pie was extinguished and the gear went flying upfront. Do I dare start the motor, I wondered as it will probably spook then, but no, I didn’t have to, they were nearly within casting range.

“Let them have it Barry” I shouted as I cast my popper expectantly towards the shoal. I didn’t know whether they would be interested in our lures as they might not be in the feeding mood. I need not have worried as my prayers were answered the instant my popper hit the water. Something happened which I haven’t had happen before, the popper was taken in a crashing strike before I even got a turn on the reel.

Barry Hooked-Up Instantly

Yeehaaal! I was doing it. Barry also hooked up instantly, a double hookup. I am sure that if anyone else had been on board they would have hooked up also. The kingfish just suddenly seemed to go berserk, climbing all over each other to get at Barry’s jig.

I was standing up high on top of my engine cover and had a spectacular view. It was very exciting and after that days fishing its one I will never forget. I climbed back down into the boat as my fish realised it was hooked. My Penn 850SS rod which I bought especially for kingfish from Ross LeComte in New Brighton Sports was proving to be better quality than the line I had used earlier in the week.

With the fish being hooked out in the open bay and being well away from any structure we could afford to let them run a bit. My Mitchell reel protested under the strain. It took around twenty minutes before I landed this fish. It weighed 19kg (41-pounds). We decided to keep this fish to give to someone we knew on the Island. Barry was definitely having some fun. It was considerably longer before we saw his fish. Once again Barry was almost completely spooled and I had to motor the boat to get some line back. It was exciting though when we finally saw it. It was a beauty, tipping the scales at 23kg (50lb). Bloody Barry will be grinning for days, I thought, as we released this fish back into the sea.

“Let’s have another go at them”, I said to Barry, as we looked around to see

where the school had gone.

“There they are” I exclaimed and we motored over to them as quietly as we could, cutting the motor and drifting into casting range. You guessed it, we hooked up instantly again. This is turning out to be a good day, I thought as I went on to land five more kingfish, tagging and releasing three of them.

They weighed in at 16kg (35-pounds), 20kg (44-pounds), 18kg (39-pounds), 19kg (41-pounds) and another 20kg (44-pounds) fish. Good sized kingfish. I only caught two fish that afternoon. Barry tagged and released another 19kg (41-pound) fish. I actually landed one of these fish using a kitchen knife as a jig. I had made it last year when we had a small competition with some mates, making lures out of anything we could find around the camp. The next fish I hooked on it I lost, must have cut me off eh. I had to write an entry into my boat log as this day as being one of the best days kingi fishing I have ever had so far.

The next day the weather conditions were exactly the same. Sure enough, we hooked and landed more kingfish after spotting the schools cruising around, tagging and releasing all of them. I caught and landed my best kingfish I have ever had on this day, a real beauty that weighed 26kg (57 lb). It took me over an hour to land and my arms were aching after that battle. I had the pleasure of letting it go again, watching it gracefully slip away with a powerful beat of its tail. A majestic sight.

All too soon it was time to drive back to Havelock to drop Barry off at the bus stop. He had to return to work but I had another couple of weeks to go. I did return to this bay, by boat, days later with other club members but the conditions were difficult with the wind making spotting impossible. I did hook and land more kingfish, 22 kings, in fact, releasing most of them. I also caught a couple of school sharks or tope around 30kg but the snapper were definitely a bit slow on it. Only one night did the weather let up and we did quite well on some good snapper. Still, those two days on the kings go down in my fishing diary as ones that are going to be very hard to beat. More French Pass Memories with Roy Jones

Maurice releasing another kingfish.
Map showing the location of French Pass between D’Urville Island and the upper South Island of New Zealand. Map courtesy of Google Earth.

This post was last modified on 13/03/2024 5:15 pm

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