By Dick Marquand
On 24 August 1994, I chaired a meeting in Queenstown which wound up the Fiordland Game Fishing Club. For me it was a sad occasion, having served as President of the club from 1978 to 1985. However, the club had been in recess for three years and interest by its members had waned.
The Fiordland Game Fishing Club was New Zealand’s most southern game fishing club. At one stage, it boasted a very strong membership. It is important that the following information is recorded so it is not lost with time.
On 3 March 1972, a meeting was held at Milford Sound to discuss the possibility of forming a fishing club to cater for New Zealand’s southern anglers.
This was agreed to by all present and the Fiordland Game Fishing Club was formed with Brent Vincent of Te Anau being elected as President. By the end of 1972, the club boasted 33 financial members.
The Fiordland Game Fishing Club went from strength to strength with a steady buildup of members. Organised game fishing expeditions were undertaken to Milford Sound and the Thompson/Doubtful Sound complex. It was an experience just to be a part of this immense and rugged area, to take in the exceptional scenery, to fish and hunt, and above all, to enjoy the companionship of other keen anglers in an area far away from the pressures of living in modern society. Where else could you dine on such seafood delicacies as crayfish, flounder, groper, blue cod, tarakihi, scallops, mussels and pauas as often as you pleased?
Members participating in trips concentrated mainly on trolling lures and consequently, their catches consisted almost entirely of albacore, butterfly tuna, southern bluefin tuna, thresher shark, blue shark and yellowtail kingfish. Other game fish had been reported as being present; these included broadbill swordfish, mako shark, porbeagle shark, white shark and skipjack tuna.
One commercial fisherman claimed to have taken his boat amongst twenty thresher sharks, whereupon he shot at them with a high powered rifle.
Billfish sightings were reported along the length of the Fiordland coast, some inshore, others offshore; indeed, one broadbill was reported as being seen near Stirling Falls in Milford Sound. Captures of white sharks and mako sharks on groper lines and in nets set for crayfish bait were reported each season. Massive sets of dried shark jaws were all the incentive needed by the members of the Fiordland Game Fishing Club.
The Fiordland Game Fishing Club was admitted as a member of the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council on 22 November 1975. The club’s first New Zealand Record was caught on April Fools Day 1976. Brent Vincent, while fishing from Samara, hooked and landed a southern bluefin tuna weighing 21.32kg (47lb) on 10kg gear.
The club claimed a World Record on 17 April 1977. A southern bluefin tuna took a pink hex-head lure that was being trolled from Samara, just north of the mouth of Milford Sound. Brent’s 12-year-old daughter Schonda fought this fish and twenty minutes later it lay alongside Samara, bleeding heavily from the gills.
Schonda’s tuna later weighed in at 22.22kg (49lb), a World Record on 10kg gear. This was grim news for Tasmanian angler Janet Verrell, who only nine days previously had landed a World Record southern bluefin which weighed 20kg (44lb), from the waters of south-east Tasmania. Schonda’s World Record remained as such until 7 March 1981, when another Tasmanian angler landed a bluefin weighing 37kg (81lb 9oz).
In 1978, the Fiordland Game Fishing Club was again in the news when Team Shamara won First Place in the Tuna Section of the National Open Game Fish Tournament. Members of this team included Captain Brent Vincent, Ralph Brown, the late Dave Lamming, the late Roy Gregory and myself. Bad weather prevented us from fishing on one of the six contest days. During the tournament, we landed eight southern bluefin tuna, mostly on 10kg gear. My 31.07kg (68.51b) southern bluefin was the largest tuna taken on 10kg gear during the tournament and was confirmed as a national record.
Less than one month after this competition, Dr Pat Farry was in action at the mouth of Milford Sound with a New Zealand Record thresher shark weighing 30.16kg (66.5lb), taken on 10kg gear. Brent Vincent made 1978 an even better year by taking a 31.07kg (68.51b) southern bluefin tuna on 10kg gear. This tied with the record tuna I had taken two months earlier.
Peter Goadby, author of the game fishing bible “Big Fish and Blue Water,” mentioned in one of his articles published in the Australian magazine Modern Fishing, the known potential for broadbill swordfish off the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I wrote to Peter inviting him to fish from Samara during March 1979, to experience Fiordland fishing and also pass on to us some of his valuable game fishing knowledge.
Ralph Brown invited Peter’s fishing mate, a New Zealand industrialist millionaire, the late Sir William Stevenson. Sir William had landed broadbill swordfish at Montauk, New York, so obviously he had the experience that we could beneﬁt from. Sir William was the ﬁrst person to capture a billfish, a tuna and a shark, each weighing over 454kg (1000lb).
New Zealand’s Television One decided that this could be the basis of a good television documentary, so they joined the bandwagon. Despite the good weather, the trip was a little disappointing due to the lack of tuna. Another problem was the cramped style on Samara with no chance of night fishing for broadbill swordfish because of television workers’ union rules.
The first bluefin of the 1979 season was taken three weeks after the completion of this trip. However, a number of yellowtail kingfish were landed near Poison Bay and Sir William landed a 72.58kg (160lb) thresher shark on 24kg gear while drift-ﬁshing off the mouth of Sutherland Sound. These captures provided the television camera with some good shots that added up to make a worthwhile 30-minute documentary titled “Lure of the Big Fish.”
Both Peter and Sir William were very impressed with the Fiordland fishing grounds, saying that the fish we were catching on lures were only tiddlers compared with what we could expect when live-bait fishing and chumming. A donation from Sir William enabled the Fiordland Game Fishing Club to purchase a set of accurate Salter dial scales with a capacity of 500kg (1100lb).
Peter showed us methods of rigging baits, lures, the art of chumming and introduced Fiordland to the New South Wales State Fisheries Game Fish Tagging Programme. A couple of years later, we tagged and released the first southern bluefin tuna in New Zealand waters.
The Fiordland Game Fishing Club went on to take two more New Zealand Records in 1980, a 3kg blue shark taken on 3kg gear by 18 stone Peter Bell of Queenstown and a 54.5kg (120lb) southern bluefin tuna taken on 24kg gear by Murray Hill of Oamaru from the late Allan Taylor’s boat Conquistador.
That same year, while fishing from Samara, just south of the mouth of Milford Sound, Denny Arnott of Queenstown hooked and lost a huge mako shark on 15kg gear after a battle of 9.25 hours.
In 1982, the club took three New Zealand Records, including a respectable southern bluefin tuna of 30kg (66lb) taken on 15kg gear by Frank Bulling. I collected two national records that year, one a 38.2kg (84lb) blue shark on 3kg gear, the other a 17kg (37.5lb) blue shark on saltwater ﬂy gear with a
6kg tippet. During the same year, I had a five-hour-long fight with a huge white shark on 37kg gear inside the mouth of Milford Sound. Nearing the end of the fight, the shark rolled on the leader and broke me off.
In the mid-1980s, Mark Harris of Te Anau landed the club’s first mako shark on 24kg gear. It weighed around 48kg (105.5lb).
Although much of the fishing was undertaken from out of Milford Sound, many club members made an extra effort by barging boats and vehicles across Lake Manapouri to West Arm. A steep drive over the Wilmot Pass led to Deep Cove, at the head of the Thompson/ Doubtful Sound complex. Deepwater lay close to this part of the Fiordland coast and some exceptional captures of southern bluefin tuna were made.
The club donated enough money to meet a Government grant (on a dollar for dollar basis) that allowed the funding of a 16 bunk hut at Deas Cove, a sheltered location near the mouth of Thompson Sound.
Another big project was the construction of floating club rooms at Deep Water Basin in Milford Sound. Fiordland National Park Policy did not allow for the siting of a shore-based hut, so a floating club room seemed to be the only answer. These plans were squashed by bureaucracy and more policy from Fiordland National Park the day before the project was to be commenced at Milford.
The Fiordland Game Fishing Club Winds-Up – It was the end of an era
It was the beginning of the end for the Fiordland Game Fishing Club. Rising fuel prices and transportation costs, the demise of the southern bluefin tuna fishery and the lack of club facilities slowly took a toll and interest in the club waned.
At the wind-up, it was unanimously agreed that the big Salter scales and club trophies be donated to the new Southern Sportfishing Club which is based in Gore. Sir William would have wanted it that way.
For me, it was the end of an era. The memories of the big fish, the rugged and beautiful scenery and the companionship of others with similar interests will remain as very precious memories.