Westport Tuna Fishing – Cooking Your Catch in the Wok

The author with his 42kg yellowfin tuna caught off Taranaki while fishing out of Westport.
The author with his 42kg yellowfin tuna caught off Taranaki while fishing out of Westport.

Westport Tuna Fishing

Keith Chin heads out of Westport tuna fishing, on the West Coast of the South Island in search of tuna

I received a call from Malcolm McColl, the skipper of the Swansong, on Monday night to see if I was interested in some Westport tuna fishing action. We would be leaving Westport on Wednesday. Such short notice but I couldn’t confirm it until I had checked with Ross Le Compte off New Brighton Sports. As he was to accompany me. After a late phone call to Ross, due to other commitments, he was unable to join me.

Tuesday 2nd March – Travel to Westport

I was a bit daunted by the thought of a long drive to Westport. I’d considered enlisting the help of a friend who could either take turns driving or provide the necessary transport. Heading out of Westport tuna fishing was an opportunity too good to be missed.

A few calls later, Trevor Keeley accepted my offer and I accepted his offer to drive. After a lengthy conversation on the type of fishing gear and personal gear, we would fish on Wednesday and be back in Port by Monday.

By 1.00 pm, a phone call to Malcolm to confirm our trip. I’d explained that Ross was unable to come and a friend of mine is to take his place.

With everything confirmed, I had a lot of packing and shopping, to do, as I was to cook for everyone on board. A borrowed chilly bin was soon crammed full of food. My bag of Chinese condiments was replenished even before I’d exerted and packed my own gear.

Wednesday 3rd March – Huge Tidal Range at Westport

Trevor arrived at the appointed time and by 8.30 am we were underway. Travelling through the Lewis Pass, we drove pasted a guy who signalled us to slow down, and if I hadn’t spotted his yellow towrope, we would have carried on. The motorist described his predicament. He had pulled off the road for sleep and when he woke, the car had a flat battery. Trevor was glad to assist and we watched him drive off in the opposite direction.

We arrived in Westport at 12.30, just ahead of Malcolm, his wife Raewyn and Paul Armstrong, the deckie. After all the introductions, we piled our gear onboard the Swansong. There was a bit of work before we could get underway. The boat had to take on fuel, water and quite a few tons of ice. Since I was the cook, it was my job to check and unload the stores. A short list of provisions was all that was required.

But we never got underway as the weather closed in. Still tied up at the wharf, I was amazed at the difference when the tide dropped. It must have been at least ten feet. The first night’s tea comprised of Chinese-style Roast Pork and stir-fry vegetables.

Thursday 4th March – Outside in the dark it was Pitch Black and Eerie

I toss and turn in my sleeping bag, as I tried to get some sleep while the wind screamed overhead. Sometime during the night, the wind had eased. Conditions improved considerably as Malcolm took the Swansong over the bar and into an almost calm sea. Finally, we were headed out of Westport tuna fishing, but surprisingly we would even chase tuna off Taranaki on the West Coast of the North Island.

I watched with interest as the four outriggers were lowered into place and before we knew it, 17 lures skipped in the boat’s wake as we headed out into open water.

Trevor and I rigged up our rods and we trailed our lures just behind the farest-back lure, to prevent the biggest tangle one could ever imagine.

With land well behind us and into the dark blue water, it seems to us to be utter chaos as tuna start hitting the lures.

On our first day out in the open sea. I was feeling the effects of lack of sleep and the combination of pulling in tuna on the bouncing sea. Exhausted, I was more intent on trying to catch up on sleep. And when Malcolm turned off the motor for the night, tea was real quick. It was cold roast pork sandwiches!

Trevor and I felt a bit apprehensive when the boat was left floating at the mercy of the swells and wind. Outside it was pitch black and eerie, from down below snoring could be heard.

Friday 5th March – Spicy Honey Chicken for Tea

It seems like I have been asleep for only a few minutes when the weather forecast came on at 5.30 am. It didn’t look good with gale warnings and a lumpy sea. After a day of endless trolling, our total catch was three tuna so Malcolm decided to head north. Having felt a bit guilty for not cooking tea the night before, I had a huge tray full of Pork Ribs baked in the oven with Black Bean sauce for lunch.

For them, it was another day wasted as we took shelter in Golden Bay and sat out the weather. I spent most of the afternoon in my sleeping bag, still trying to catch up on sleep and I was sure that Trevor had felt the same way.

Anchored, spicy honey chicken for tea was easy. For once I didn’t have to struggle to keep my balance. With the gentle slop on the side of the boat, I had no problems achieving a good night’s sleep.

Saturday 6th March – We Headed Further North

Both Trevor and I were up early and had caught a variety of fish, but the snapper had eluded us. Once again the motors roared into life and the lures were put over the side. Malcolm trolled further north and eventually, we ended up at the Maui Platforms off Taranaki.

Sunday 7th March – We were in the middle of the Taranaki One Base Tournament

We woke to a very flat sea, so much so it was almost oily in appearance. As we trolled, there was an unusual amount of chatter on the radio, it appears that we were in the middle of a fishing competition called the Taranaki One Base. At one stage we heard that there were 43 Makos and eight marlins landed for the weigh-in. See also Striped Marlin Off the Coast of Taranaki – Aboard Swansong – Keith Chin

There was a marlin lost if we heard correctly after a lengthy five-hour battle. Malcolm noticed a fin sticking out of the water and turned the Swansong around for a further inspection.

We were surprised to see a striped marlin, close up, only to have it light up to a bright iridescent blue and with a flick of its tail – it disappeared into the depths. Trevor and I were quick to change our small tuna lures for a much bigger lure. For us, things were on the quiet side, as we listened to hookups and fish lost over the radio.

As I cooked albacore tuna for tea I had my line over the side, baited with the frame of albacore hoping for a mako shark. It remained almost untouched.

After tea and in the dark, Paul showed us how it was done. He had a small whole Albacore, rigged with a hook in the head and one in its tail lowered over the side on a handline. A minute later, something went absolutely ballistic around the boat. Under torchlight, it was identified as a very lively Mako of about five feet. It was quickly subdued when it was brought on board and we couldn’t but help admire its rows of sharp slender teeth.

Monday 8th March

We should have been heading home, that was the plan. But what could we do? We were somewhere in the middle of the ocean and out of sight of land. “Oh yes,” a mutiny did cross our minds.

A different strategy was called for, as we had nothing to lose. I had two unrigged lures in my bag and their efficiency remained to be seen. I rigged mine using Seaguer fluorocarbon, 220 lbs for trace, with two 10/0 Gamakatsu O’Shaughnessy hooks. I left Trevor rigging the other lure as I’d lowered mine over the side. Trevor soon joined me and we spent a few hours watching it skim across the surface.

During some tuna action, when we were all busy pulling in fish, Trevor’s reel started to lose line. A little at first and then it screamed. I was halfway into the cabin to grab my camera when I was called back to clear my rod. It was a sight, which we will never forget. Imprinted on our minds – just like a photograph, a marlin tail-walking at the back of the boat.

Trevor never got the satisfaction of playing this beautiful and powerful fish, as it had spat out the hook!

Malcolm turned the boat around, hoping it might strike again. On Trevor’s face was a dreadful look of disappointment. It would have been his first gamefish.

At night, the squid could be seen darting in and out of the light. I was amazed at how fast they can travel through the water. However I failed to impress them with squid jigs and after an hour, I had given up hope of securing a feed of them.

Tuesday 9th March – Westport Tuna Fishing?

Today, Malcolm turned the boat around, heading south and closer to home. Once again our lures travelled behind the others. I had two strikes on my reel and both times all the lines were cleared. But you had to laugh – an Albacore and a Skipjack with one no bigger than the lure I was using.

By 11.00 am, the rain had set in and the tuna lure was still doing its job. I had my lure set further back this time and without any warning my Shimano TLD 50, 2 speed screamed even louder as the 24kg rig IGFA line peeled off at an alarming rate and under 8 kg drag by a very powerful fish.

By the time, I’d strapped into my harness and the tuna lines cleared for the third time, the fish had taken well over 450 metres of line. There was speculation on what I had on. After a lot of pumping and winding, most of it in second gear, the fish still remained deep.

I then did something really stupid, sensing the drag could be too tight and a huge bend in the rod that didn’t look too healthy. I’d eased the lever drag a bit and what resulted was a minor over-run. The quick thinking from Paul and Malcolm I was back in control again, and this time was able to regain the line. All of us were peering over the side, hoping to get a glimpse of it.

It was a pain-staking moment, the line slowly inched onto the reel and I had colour. It was only a flash, not quite enough to establish its identity.

After more anxious minutes Malcolm yelled “yellowfin”. The double appeared out of the water and I watched it travel slowly down the length of the rod and onto the reel.

There was heaps of instruction from Malcolm:

”Grab the leader, Paul”

”Don’t give him slack”

“Take a wrap – Take a wrap”

Paul made a grab at the leader and took a wrap. Malcolm gaffed the fish and in one swift movement, the fish was jerked out of the water onto the deck. It was huge in my books and the fish pulled the scales down to 42 kg (92.4lbs). My fish was eventually placed in the slurry bin, along with the Albacore and Skipjacks which made my fish look even more impressive. Well, it was a Westport tuna fishing trip – sort of!

I took a break and Trevor was next to hook up when we trolled back into the strike zone. I helped to pull in some of the tuna lures, before grabbing the video camera to film some of the action. Trevor’s fish pulled the scales down to 32 kg (72.4 lbs). After which, we swore not to reveal the name of the lure and it was our wee secret.

For the second time, I was first to hook up and when Trevor started to wind in his line – he too was into a fish.

Double hook up and two screaming reels. But after a short run, the fish dropped Trevor’s lure. Once again I had a lot of line to recover, but this time, the line parted company and I was left winding in limp line. I was shattered and got to enjoy the thrill of having played such a powerful fish. I didn’t accept Trevor’s offer of having my last lure back and was contented with pulling in small tuna.

After tea Malcolm and Paul, dropped twenty baited hooks over the side, with two window sash weights for a sinker and fed out three hundred metres of rope. We were some fifty miles out and on the edge of the canyon. I watched as Trevor geared up for his drop and after three attempts – the result was a spiny dogfish.

Wednesday 10th March

It blew all night, rain as we have never seen before with lightning and thunder. Both Trevor and I failed to get much sleep and it was even an effort to try and stay in our bunks. In the huge seas, tuna was still taking the lures and we even saw them surfing down the swells once hooked. Most of the time, we stayed inside and out of the rain.

It was an all-night run back to Nelson, with everyone having a two-hour watch.

Thursday 11th March – We arrived in Nelson at the top of the South Island

We finally arrived back in the South Island at 7.30 am. Just in front of the city lights of Nelson and in the rain. I helped Malcolm and Paul to raise the tuna poles. I had to wait until we were berthed to have a shower and to get out of some very wet clothes.

Trevor and I used facilities on the wharf. I enjoy the longest shower I had for a long time, especially when we lost quite a few litres a few days earlier. And the water was rationed for cooking and coffee only.

Finally, our trip had come to an end, we waited for Paul’s brother to arrive from Blenheim to join the boat and used his car to pick up ours in Westport. Just maybe, next year we will do it all over again. For it had been a great experience with some very good friends. Westport Tuna Fishing ended up off Taranaki and then back to Nelson. What a trip!

Tuna in a Black Bean Sauce

4 fillets of Tuna
2 Tablespoons of oil
2 spring onions – sliced for garnish
2 Tablespoons of soft black beans
2 Tablespoon of Lee Kum Kee Oyster Sauce
1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic
4 slices of fresh root ginger
1/4 cup of water

Method:

Soak the black beans, drain and chop with ginger and garlic.

Heat oil in the wok, and add a little salt would help to prevent the fillets from sticking.

Slowly cook the fillets, adding the black bean mixture. I had added two nips of gin, which is optional before adding the remaining ingredients.

Don’t overcook the fish or it will become dry and the texture would be ruined.

Serve with boiled rice and veggies.