Cindy Hardy Fiordland Fishing Adventure

Bruce Rule displays two "good sized" blue cod on the deck of the Cindy Hardy.
Bruce Rule displays two "good sized" blue cod on the deck of the Cindy Hardy.

Cindy Hardy Fiordland Fishing Adventure with the Ferrymead Tavern Fishing Club

By Keith Chin

It was an awesome experience for 15 members of our club, who managed to get time off work for a week’s fishing on board the Cindy Hardy in Fiordland. After months of planning and fundraising, everything went like clockwork. The bus was quickly loaded, along with necessary liquid refreshments. As usual, I slept most of the way as we headed south through the heart of the South Island to Te Anau. 

A quick stop was made at Richard Hayes, who operates Southern Lakes Helicopters, to sort out our gear in his hangar ready for the early morning flight.  Then it was back into town for a relaxing night.

In the morning we were back on the bus and after a short drive, we arrived at the hangar, just as the sun’s rays lit up the morning sky.

The first flight out was at 7.15 am. We watched as the squirrel helicopter lifted off and slowly headed south. It looked dark and ominous. An hour and a half later it was my turn. The flight was spectacular as the green paddocks gave way to the dark blue waters of Lake Manapouri, then to the mountains covered in dense green rain forest shrouded with low cloud, exposing the brown tussock tops dotted with numerous small lakes and tarns.

The Cindy Hardy. Photograph: Keith Chin.
The Cindy Hardy. Photograph: Keith Chin.

I knew that our flight had almost come to an end as we followed the Seaforth River into Dusky Sound, with the Cindy Hardy just visible below us in the morning mist.

The squirrel touched down on the beach, not far from our second helicopter, a Hughes 500, loaded with some of our gear and food for the week. Both helicopters were quickly unloaded. Our gear which was piled up on the beach awaiting out transport was in the way of the boat’s stabi-craft. The tricky manoeuvre of ferrying everything to the Cindy Hardy was completed without incident.

I was onboard and had just finished my morning cuppa when the squirrel arrived back with the remaining members on its final trip in light Fiordland rain.

With everyone safely onboard, the stabi-craft was hoisted onto the deck with the assistance of a hydraulic crane. We introduced ourselves to the skipper Gordon, Marion the cook, and Crockett, who flew in with us. The accommodation was quickly sorted out, with most of us down the bow, which we later learnt was called the ‘snakepit’. The couples had the luxury accommodation in midship.

Our rods and reels were quickly assembled as we made our way from Supper Cove. One blast on the horn meant that we were fishing, and two blasts – lines up’ worked well, as we slowly fished our way down Dusky Sound. 

A variety of fish were caught but only blue cod was kept, with all unwanted fish returned back to the water. The difference was quickly noted, anywhere else we would normally fish the reefs for cod in the blue clear waters.

The author, Keith Chin, cooking Black Bean Crayfish. Cindy Hardy Fiordland Fishing Adventure.
The author, Keith Chin, cooking Black Bean Crayfish.

The waters here took on a black colouration, due to the high rainfalls. There is a layer of tea coloured fresh water floated on top of the saltwater. Gordon brought his boat within a few metres of the rugged mountainside, the drop off is nearly straight down.

In the afternoon it was time for our divers, Ross LeCompte, Brent Gracey and Danny Thrupp, who had just completed his dive course for this trip. Crockett made up the fourth member of the dive party. 

Their air bubbles were visible as we continued to fish while waiting for them to resurface. The hydraulic crane was put to good use. A basket was lowered into the water and all the divers had to do was swim into it. High above the deck in the wheelhouse Gordon operated the lever to bring the divers back onto the deck. They had had some success and for Danny it was his first cray.

Marion produced from the two stoves a great roast for tea complete with desserts. One of the ovens runs off the boat’s generator, and the other is a diesel stove which is left on. This oven provided us with a little warmth from the cold winds and we had endless hot water for our tea and coffee. 

Sunset in Fiordland and the return of the hunters. Photograph: Rob Isherwood.
Sunset in Fiordland and the return of the hunters. Photograph: Robin Isherwood.

Sleep didn’t come easily for me, the chorus of snorers kept me awake for a little while (sorry guys). I was up early just in time to see the sun rise to a beautiful clear day and we enjoyed a cooked breakfast. 

A quick stop at Astronomers Point and we observed a plaque which records the visit of Captain Cook on his second voyage, from the 27 March to 28 April 1773. Here he brewed New Zealand’s first beer. Its consumption was compulsory as a means of combating scurvy. To establish his exact position an area has been cleared and the tree stumps can still be seen today, even though the bush has regenerated over 225 years.

What a life, as we slowly fished our way up in some amazing scenery of dense bush, tumbling waterfalls and towering steep mountains. It was time for the hunters to try their luck in bagging a deer.

Barry Bright teamed up with Grant Prebble, and Ross LeCompte in his tiger stripes teamed up with me in my green camo gear. We were dropped off by Crockett in pairs around Resolution Island, and he was to return to pick us up in four hours.

The deer prints on the beach showed promise, and Ross and I headed deeper into the bush. Deer signs were everywhere throughout this patch of very wet bush, but neither of us caught sight of any of the deer responsible. However, we were rewarded with at least three stags roaring their heads off somewhere across the river in some steep looking country, but our time was up if we were to keep our rendezvous with our water taxis.

The last to be picked up were Barry and Grant. One deer was visible, but who shot it? Barry explained how he had shot two deer, but one was not recovered as it had tumbled over a cliff. 

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The second day was great – fresh fish, crayfish and venison. A quick shower as the boat made its way up Breaksea Sounds for our second anchorage at Sunday Cove.

Tea-time, and it was another superb meal cooked by Marion, but this time as I had brought all the condiments with me, I was talked into cooking an entree of Crayfish Black Bean. Not having a wok onboard I used a big heavy pan on the diesel stove, not nearly as fast as gas but it did the trick. 

It was time to reflect on the day’s activities and the plans for tomorrow. Ross, Barry and I were keen to locate the stags, but Grant decided he would rest his legs. The rest of the members were keen for a troll for blue fin off Breaksea Island.

After breakfast, Crockett again provided the necessary transport. Ross and I were dropped off in the same area while Barry was dropped off in a new location. This time I got a whiff of the stag in the swirling breeze, but never caught a glimpse in the dense bush. 

Again it was time for us to walk out and we were early this time. The dreaded sandflies immediately surrounded us and proceeded to sink their fangs into us. There was no escape, they even followed us as we sped back to the waiting boat.

The success of the first blue fin tuna landed on the Cindy Hardy was clearly seen on Steve Smith’s face, as he posed for the customary photos. We later learnt that a few members were trolling lures behind the boat’s wake, some twenty feet above the water. Bruce Rule hooked up first and then Steve Smith – a double hook up. 

Steve Smith's bluefin tuna was just shy of 60 pounds. Pic Lex Coutts. Barry with Fiordland red deer. Pic Keith Chin. Robin Isherwood with a rare visitor to Fiordland, a snapper caught in Breaksea Sound. Pic Keith Chin. Cindy Hardy Fiordland Fishing Adventure.
Steve Smith’s bluefin tuna was just shy of 60 pounds. Pic Lex Coutts. Barry with Fiordland red deer. Pic Keith Chin. Robin Isherwood with a rare visitor to Fiordland, a snapper caught in Breaksea Sound. Pic Keith Chin.

Unfortunately for Bruce, his tuna dropped the hook. Steve had a problem standing on the deck landing this magnificent game fish. With choppy seas, Steve passed his rod between the railing posts, then down a flight of stairs to the lower deck. The fish was then played to the side of the boat. Trevor Cox, leaning over the side secured it with a gaff. The blue fin tuna pulled the scales to just under 60lb.

The anchor was dropped in Second Cove in Breaksea Sound for our third night. Trevor prepared some of the tuna with wasabi and soy sauce, washed down with a few beers. Barry went ashore again for another hunt and forty five minutes later a single shot echoed around the cove. Another successful hunt for Barry with a four point stag.

There was bad news from home for Grant Prebble, which meant that he had to cut short his holiday. We were to meet up with the MV Tutoko to join a party that were leaving in the morning by float plane. 

After tea I had a fish to see what was lurking below us but there was nothing but dogfish, so after hooking a dogfish that I had released moments earlier I called it a day.

Danny Thrupp and Brent Gracey display the results from their morning dive. Photograph: Lex Coutts.
Danny Thrupp and Brent Gracey display the results from their morning dive. Photograph: Lex Coutts.

In the morning it was different story. My first fish was a gurnard, blue cod, tarakihi and the ever-present jock stewarts. The light drizzle got heavier, and I went below for my waterproof overtrousers. The drag alarm had been set on my Shimano Charter Special, and as I struggled to get into them, the alarm sounded. Thinking it was another dogfish I decided it would have to wait.

Pushing the lever up to strike, nothing whatever picked up the baited hook and it was dropped after a spirited run. A few minutes later Robin Isherwood was into a good fish. It was a surprise for everyone onboard, another first for Cindy Hardy – a medium size snapper, and so far south.

There was no time to fish on, Grant had a plane to catch. We made our way south through Dusky Sound towards Chalky Island. Another unsuccessful attempt at trolling was made for bluefin tuna, crossing some very rough water. There was quite a contrast in landscape, the water was almost crystal blue with magnificent golden sand beaches. 

A long line was set overnight with twelve baited tuna circle hooks in 176 fathoms (1056 feet) of water, while divers went about securing another feed of crayfish. At North Port in Chalky Sound, a school of fish was seen feeding on baitfish that were attracted to the ship’s light. They evaded all possible means of capture, and their identity is unknown.

Debra and Lex with a big groper taken on a long line in Chalky Sound. Photograph: Lex Coutts.
Debra and Lex with a big groper taken on a long line in Chalky Sound. Photograph: Lex Coutts.

The groper line was lifted after breakfast, with three groper, one ling and a dogfish. The hooks were rebaited and back over the side for an evening lift.

Situated in a clearing of the dense bush is a building called The Lodge. More importantly, the fish we saw darting in and out on the edge of light were found stranded on the beach. They were butterfly tuna, which have a fold in the stomach area into which the adipose folds.

There were two possible reasons why they were stranding themselves. Either a seal was responsible for the fish driving themselves ashore in an attempt to avoid being eaten, or as I think, in their eagerness to chase the baitfish, they stranded themselves. There were countless numbers boiling around the boat, still evading capture.

Before we knew it our stay on this large 23.9m vessel was almost at an end. We made our way up Preservation Inlet towards Cascade Basin where we were treated to a spectacular waterfall. 

All our gear was packed on the last night and in the morning the sound of the helicopters’ rotors signalled our flights out. We were treated to a breathtaking view as we followed the squirrel out in the Hughes 500.

Fiordland is best described as New Zealand’s last frontier. A fantastic fishing trip like this on the Cindy Hardy is something we will never forget.

Group photograph with Southern Lakes Helicopter. Cindy Hardy Fiordland Fishing Adventure.
Group photograph with Southern Lakes Helicopter.