The first time that I saw the Takaroa II was at Bluff Harbour where I was engaged in a spot of fishing with my good friend Dave Craze. I was very impressed with her lines, the hull looked to me to be capable of handling the unpredictable southern seas and the sails were a very sensible option for long-range ﬁshing excursions. Little did I realise that seven months later, Crazy Dave and I would be jig fishing for blue cod and trumpeter from the Takaroa II in the productive waters off Stewart Island.
The Takaroa II is a steel Bermudan rig motor sailer, built in Australia twelve years ago. This spacious vessel is 17.2 metres (57 feet) in length, with a beam of 5.6 metres (18 feet). Motor power is by way of a 6LXB Gardiner diesel engine of 125 h.p. which gives her a cruising speed of 8 knots at 1300 revs. At this speed, the motor uses 16 litres of fuel per hour which gives the Takaroa II a cruising range of 7000 nautical miles. The boat features some electronic wizardry including a global positioning system, autopilot, colour radar, colour sounder, radios, cell phone, fax phone, as well as a large freezer, a compressor for diving parties and luxuriously appointed air-conditioned berths for up to ﬁfteen overnighters.
Skipper/owner Bill Ayto and his wife Lyn are no strangers to the waters off the Southland coast, Stewart Island and Fiordland, having worked together in this area on a variety of boats, for many years.
When Bill and Lyn decided to start a charter boat business based on adventure tourism, they began to look for a suitable boat, a search that eventually ended with the Takaroa II at Port Douglas in Queensland, Australia. Bill flew to Australia and after viewing the boat, he realised that it would be perfect for what he had in mind.
The trip from Port Douglas to Sydney took eight days, while the final leg across the Tasman Sea from Sydney to Bluff took just four hours short of four days, and 2,800 litres of diesel fuel. While about 160 kilometres west of Dagg Sound, they picked up 35 knots of Norwest and with all sails full, she reached 12.5 knots. At 140 kilometres, the long-range radar picked up the rugged Fiordland coastline.
Bill and Lyn renamed their boat Takaroa II, after the Polynesian sea god, with a II tacked on the end because there was already a boat with this name.
When the Southern Sportfishing Club offered its members the opportunity to take part in a day of fishing from the Takaroa II off the east coast of Stewart Island, Crazy Dave and I jumped at the chance. New Zealand’s southern waters have a big appeal to me and besides, I was keen to try out some new fishing gear. Crazy Dave’s son David was also keen to join the party and Southern Fishing and Boating Editor Allan Burgess did not need to be asked twice.
I had lent my full range of Mansfield jig moulds to Crazy Dave and accordingly, he and his son swung into full production, manufacturing a heap of lead delicacies.
Fifteen anglers arrived at Bluff early one August morning and after loading ourselves and all manner of gear aboard Takaroa II, Bill and Lyn cast off we headed out towards the entrance of Bluff Harbour.
Once clear of the harbour entrance, Bill set a course towards North Island, one of a group of exposed windswept islands lying east of Stewart Island at the northern extreme of the Muttonbird (Titi) Islands. The journey would take only two hours at around eight knots, giving us time to prepare our fishing gear and take in the marvellous scenery that only the southern coast of New Zealand can offer.
The sea had a very gentle southerly swell that gave a pleasant motion to the boat. Patches of sunlight highlighted the native forest on Stewart Island, but cloud obscured the top of Mount Anglem, the highest point on the island. The sky was partly cloudy, with the lack of sun and the low light conditions, the sea had a sombre grey appearance. To our left lay Dog Island and its landmark lighthouse and slightly ahead of us was Ruapuke Island and the smaller Bird Island. Behind us was another landmark, the tall chimney of the Tiwai aluminium smelter.
Two hours after leaving Bluff, we arrived at our first fishing location, close to North Island. Bill positioned Takaroa II and we commenced our drift, just off the northern end of the island.
I will include a brief description of the gear Dave, David, Allan and I were using for the benefit of those readers keen to take on the fascinating angling sport of jigging. Allan was armed with a custom made Rolux jigging rod fitted with a Penn 45 GLS. Crazy Dave was using a Penn CPS 3721L rod and a Penn 330 GTI while his son David had a Jarvis Walker Apollo medium-fast action rod and a Penn 310 GT1 loaded with 15kg mono. My own rod was a Butterworth Jig King, a powerful rod that I consider ideal for 15kg line, and a Penn 45 GLS.
The terminal gear were jigs made from my Mansfield jig moulds, from 150 grams to 300 grams. These had been painted in a variety of colour combinations by David. The jigs were armed with an assortment of hooks, including Gamakatsu’s 8/0 Live Bait and 6/0 O’Shaughnessy patterns. These are excellent hooks for jigging lures; the hooks have points which are extremely sharp from a chemical sharpening process, consequently, they successfully hook ﬁsh that would otherwise be missed. Being single, they do not tend to accidentally foul the bottom to the same degree as treble hooks. These hooks were decorated with pieces of luminescent green or pink tubing.
We always use sabiki rigs above the metal jigs. My favourites are the new Snappa Flash sabiki rigs. These are tied with high-quality monofilament and Gamakatsu Octopus hooks, again chemically sharpened. Each “fly” has a Krystal Flash tail and a luminous green or pink bead just in front of the eye of the hook. Snappa Flash sabiki rigs contain only three flies on each rig, any more tends to cause mega tangles. These sabikis are available tied with hooks from 1/0 to 6/0 and come in either pink or green. Both these colours work effectively in our southern waters. Right, back to the fishing!
As soon as the boat was drifting, I let my jig run down into the blue water to the seafloor 25 metres below us.
With jigging, it is best to use a free spool reel on a fast taper rod that is around two metres in length. The rod is pointed down and the jig is allowed to “flutter” down. When the jig stops, the angler places the thumb on the reel spool and lifts the rod abruptly. If there is no pressure (from a hooked fish), the lure is allowed to fall back to the bottom. The rod is lifted two or three times with your thumb on the disengaged reel spool. The lure is then allowed to flutter to the seafloor, the thumb again applies pressure to the reel spool and the rod is lifted. And so it goes on and on until the line is around 45 degrees from the vertical, whereupon the jig is wound back to the boat and the whole performance is repeated. If a fish is hooked, the angler must engage the reel gears and ﬁght the ﬁsh in a conventional manner.
It is important that when jigging, the boat is not anchored as it must drift freely over the ground that is required to be fished. If the drift is unsuccessful, the location can be tried again or you can move and try another spot.
A high-quality fishfinder/depth sounder is an essential piece of fishing equipment when jigging, as it not only shows the foul bottom where the schools of fish can be found but also the fish themselves. Right, let’s get back to the Takaroa II.
When I felt the gear reach the bottom, I thumbed the reel spool and lifted the rod tip. It was only a matter of seconds later while lifting the rod tip, I felt a fish and wound a small trumpeter to the surface. The ﬁsh had taken a pink Snappa Flash sabiki ﬂy, so at least we knew that they were working. The trumpeter was too small to keep.
It was only right that my first fish was a trumpeter as they are very common in Stewart Island waters. Fresh from the sea, they are a sight to behold. The back is an olive green with three brown longitudinal bands that run the length of the body. The belly of the trumpeter is silvery, tinged with yellow, and the fins are silver-green tinged with yellow. They are indeed a beautiful fish when fresh from the sea and a plucky fighter. Although the average length of Stewart Island trumpeter is around 35 to 40cm, they have been known to grow over a metre and weigh more than 20kg. This relation of the blue moki is commonly caught by recreational anglers who combine jigs with sabiki rigs. This method will catch you plenty, so do not be a fish hog and remember to release all the small ones.
The fishing action warmed up with a mixture of blue cod and trumpeter being landed. Allan and the two Daves were also kept busy landing fish on the sabiki rigs. Most of the other anglers were using bait which
was readily accepted more so by the blue cod than the trumpeter. After a grunt and a grind, young David hauled a medium-size jock Stewart to the surface.
We had a couple of drifts over the same area and landed an assortment of medium size blue cod and trumpeter, as well as a few jocks and girdled wrasse.
I was particularly impressed with the girdled wrasse, having caught the odd one previously on bait in Fiordland waters. In the waters of Stewart Island, they are obviously a lot more common. The large males of around 35cm are a pale pinkish-brown in colour with a vertical bar of grey down each side. They certainly do not have the intense colouration and markings as other members of the Labridae family. Banded wrasse too appeared to be suckers for the sabiki rigs.
Skipper Bill was keen to get us onto bigger fish, mind you, I did not hear any of the anglers complaining about the fishing. We headed south of the island to an area Bill identiﬁed as the North Island shallows. The current here was swift and the turbulence on the surface was a clear indication of the foul ground 28 metres below us. It was hard holding the jigs near the bottom, so I changed to a 300 gram Mansfield painted green and silver. However, again it was the Snappa Flash sabikis that really provided the action.
Young David showed the rest of us how to fish by bending the small Jarvis Walker rod double and hauling two blue cod and a trumpeter on the sabikis and a second trumpeter on the jig. He was rapt, mind you, so was Crazy Dave. The blue cod and trumpeter struck well and we soon had some good size “keepers” in the fish bin.
I had a tug and hooked up on something solid which turned out to be a big jock Stewart of 1.5kg. I have caught thousands of jock Stewarts in Fiordland waters, but nothing approaching the size of this fellow. Although regarded as a rubbish fish by most anglers, jocks are very good eating and this one was a welcome addition to the fish bin.
Jock Stewarts are members of the scorpion-fish family Scorpaenidae, which also includes the deadly stonefish found on the tropical coral reefs. Jocks are very common in the coastal waters of the South Island venturing from the low tide zone to waters as deep as 600 metres. This species is definitely one of nature’s successes.
Once we drifted off the foul, the bait anglers started to pick up spiny dogfish. The big rip over the shallows had produced a few tangles of fishing lines so Bill decided that it was time to show us another of his “hot spots.”
Takaroa II took us south-east to the foul ground lying on the west side of Kanetetoe Island, part of the Fancy Group. Here, the rip did not present a problem.
Jigs and baits went over the side, into about 30 metres of water, and again a great catch of blue cod and trumpeter was made.
“I’ve got a good one,” said Crazy Dave.
“A good one” turned out to be a wee trumpeter and a wee cod. I promised Dave that I would mention this incident to all readers.
Allan landed a nice telescope fish on one of the sabiki flies. To be honest, this fish caused me some confusion with regards to its identification. I had caught telescope fish previously in Fiordland waters, but nothing of this size. Allan’s specimen was about 38cm in length with a pointed snout and a mouth-piece that extended forward and downward perhaps 4cm. The colouration of the fish is what really impressed me.
The upper sides are a dark greenish-brown with longitudinal olive green stripes and rows of small blue dots. The lower belly is silver grey and the fins are yellow. This species is one of nature’s bounties, they are great to catch, beautiful to look at and excellent to eat.
Allan’s next fish was a nice blue moki of around 2kg, foul hooked near the eye by a green Snappa Flash sabiki. When this fish was lifted into the boat, it was eyed enviously by the other anglers aboard. A great catch Allan!
The afternoon’s fishing progressed very well and we completed several drifts across the foul ground on the eastern side of Kanetetoe Island. I was particularly pleased to catch a tarakihi, one of only two taken during the day. Apart from the usual blue cod and trumpeter, we also landed more telescope fish, a couple of big jocks, some very big banded wrasse, more girdled wrasse and a couple of scarlet wrasses. When we drifted off the foul, some large spiny dogs and a red cod fell to the bait anglers.
In my opinion, the Mansfield jigs and particularly the Snappa Flash sabiki rigs worked extremely well with Crazy Dave, David, Allan and myself landing perhaps twice the amount of fish landed by the bait anglers. Snappa Flash sabiki rigs are worth their weight in gold if you are into jigging. Bill said that he had never before seen so many trumpeters caught. The Mansfield jigs also produced fish, especially those armed with the chemically sharpened Gamakatsu hooks.
As far as losing gear goes, the four of us lost perhaps ten jigs, not bad considering the foul ground we were fishing over.
During the afternoon, we completed at least ten drifts on the eastern side of the island. Each time, Bill put us right onto the fish.
I could not help but admire the professional approach of Skipper Bill and his wife and deckie Lyn. Not only did they both mix with the anglers and offer assistance with bait and tangled lines, but they also filleted most of the day’s catch, while we fished on. Imagine that, where else do you get a skipper to clean and fillet your catch? I was also very impressed by their attitude towards small fish, they are both very aware that the future of their business is dependent upon future stocks of fish.
At around 4.15 p.m., we wound in our lines and headed back towards Bluff, a journey that took around 2.5 hours. The day had treated us well to what I consider exceptional fishing in good weather and sea conditions. And, while we were fishing, a big pot of soup and hot water for tea or coffee was available.
It was dark as we approached the leading lights of Bluff Harbour. Total steaming time for the day was five hours, with another five hours of exceptional fishing for blue cod and trumpeter, all for a very modest fee.
It is my opinion that Bill and Lyn are running an operation with tremendous tourist potential. They are both professionals who operate in a truly unspoilt and practically untapped recreational fishery. Blue cod and trumpeter are only some of what the angler can expect. Extended trips can put you in contact with groper, bluenose, sharks and a wide variety of other sports fish which frequent these southern waters. Allan, Crazy Dave and I agree that the Ayto’s Takaroa II operation rates a very well deserved 10 out of 10.
Special thanks to Bill and Lyn Ayto for a fantastic day on the water that I’ll never forget. Special thanks also to Dick Marquand, Crazy Dave and David. Special thanks to the members of the Southern Sportfishing Club for their tremendous hospitality. Allan Burgess
This article previously featured further information about Takaroa II Adventure Cruises. However, such info would be out of date now. You can get current info as of (4 January 2020) and contact details by reaching out to Bill and Lyn directly.
New Zealand Tourism Guide, full details with phone numbers, contact details, inquiry form, info on the different trips available, More detailed info on the Takaroa II, bookings, and so on. Contact Bill and Lyn Ayto, Takaroa II Adventure Cruises.
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