Whether you’re a fisher(wo)man or not, I bet you’ll like this story. It is a story of two friends who went land-based fishing on Sunday, 18th Sept. 2016, it is also of a perfect day, worry-free, adventure-rich, spontaneous, the sort you don’t forget. Let’s start with the morning. A windy, cold and rainy morning it is. Are we going fishing?, is it going to stop raining?, are we going to find a decent spot?, shouldn’t I rather stay in by the fire and have an easy Sunday?, I was asking these questions to myself whilst tying fishing rigs and sorting out my backpack.
Take only the bare necessities, one rod, one reel, a handful of pre-tied rigs, one camera, one lens and one knife. Keep it simple, keep it light, you might need to climb. You see, the plan was to go for a hike along a remote and rugged coastline – some would say this particular part of the Island is cursed, as the ledges look promising but getting to them is not possible – then find a suitable way down. In spite of the rain – it is 1000 now, our plans are not concrete, we might still call it off – I am excited. Excited about the opportunity to explore an area on the Island I haven’t been to, to make photographs, and, things going well, to catch a big snapper.
The setting is Motu Aotea, Great Barrier Island, I think New Zealand’s fifth largest Island. A quiet place with a population density of roughly 3 per square kilometre – if that isn’t helpful, it is an Island of roughly 50 km times 60 km with circa 900 permanent residents. I should also mention that every one lives off the grid. The climate sub-tropical, natural beauty abundant and the fishing good. It can be phenomenal.
Getting To The Spot
It is a quiet Sunday, the streets are empty, Sinclair and I are having a chat, catching up as we’re driving to the north east of the Island. It is past noon. The last 10 km of the road are not sealed, narrow and very windy, taking us onto sea level, into a bay close to a golden, sandy beach. We park next to a dead sheep, the corpse is a few days old. The sky is overcast, dark and apart from a couple of brief, light showers, the weather is optimal for what we will be doing. We cross a small creek and ascend a steep hill, follow a hiking track along a ridge line, past an old Pa site and continue for 30 minutes to walk north with the sea to our right. We talk about things that matter to us.
The cool but pleasant sea breeze, the dramatic land and seascapes, the anticipation of what is going to come, can you imagine how you would have felt? Free, alive, happy, excited, fortunate, grateful. More than once we stop and wonder if we have walked too far, we are about 150m above sea level now, more inland and can’t find an obvious track that would take us down to the water. We discuss options and carry on. Eventually, we find an entrance that will take us off the main track and lead presumingly into the right direction. We complain about a short stretch of dense gorse (a spiky bush), which we push through in short pants. Unpleasant, and unaware to us only the beginning of having to push through.
At this time, about 13:00, the line of sight is in the order of only 10 meters, we are walking mainly by feeling, going downhill along the ridge. This is not easy, but we’re enjoying it, the adventure, the company, the jokes. At last we can see the ocean, a couple of nice ledges in a tiny bay. There is quite a bit of wash, lots of white water, but no swell and it is not far down. We navigate through the only manageable part of the terrain, it is very steep to either side. There is a rope, it’s attached well to a small tree, it’s in good shape. We walk down facing the sea, every now and then taking the rope into one hand for assistance, there is gorse everywhere. We push through. Soon, the gorse renders the rope useless, it is buried underneath, roots and dirt. I did mention that this is also a story of the sort of days you don’t forget. We push through. We joke the pain away.
Life is great, the sea-breeze fresh, cool, we’ve made it into this remote bay. Not sure if this is the one we were aiming for, not sure how we’re going to climb out again. Never mind. The feeling of being in a bay no one has been for a long time is magnified exponentially by the anticipation of casting a bait.
Let The Fishing Begin
Sinclair has a couple of casts, I take photos, check the surroundings out with an interest in rock pools “There are fish here Ben.” I cast a whole squid, it is hooked in the head and tail, 40 m out. The rig consists of a meter and a half of 50 lbs line, two hooks secured about 7 cm apart, a running quarter ounce sinker and the main line has a breaking strain of 30 lbs. A beautiful cast, the conditions are ideal, no wind that would bother us, feels like 16-18 degrees C, no swell, but lots of wash and dark, overcast sky.
I’ve got my finger on the line and wonder what to look at, everything is new here, Sinclair is re-baiting with his back to the sea, I turn left and gaze toward the burley rope. How would you feel when you see – to your surprise, these sort of things are very rare – a massive snapper, floating next to the weed line, subtly managing the flow of water and munching away on burley pieces. The beautiful colours in this blue-greenish water, so close, at least 15 lbs. I crank my bait in quickly and shout: “wow man, wow man, there is a huge snapper right here!” I want Sinclair to see this fish too, so close, at the surface. It starts casually diving down and away, I don’t wait and cast where the
snapper would be in few seconds.
One, two, three, kabooom, a massive knock at the end of my line, the rod bends, the reel is screaming line out, too much line, too fast, I increase the drag. Sinclair is watching as I fight the fish, gaining line, loosing line, I decide to increase the drag a bit further. When I feel like gaining on the fish, turning its head toward me, the snapper goes for a third run and the line breaks. It’s over. Not the excitement though.
We’re smiling. The thought of what I could have done differently enters my mind though as I attach a pre-tied rig onto the main line. I bait it this time with a whole pilchard, no sinker and break off a tiny bit of its belly area, so the gut juices and blood can flow out fast, and cast some 30 m out. The bait hits the water surface, I see it, I hear it, one, two, three, four, five seconds, and, kaboom. I strike, there is another good fish on, it fights hard, I play it safe with this one, it is smaller, I can tire it out instead of stopping it. “You’re on another fish brother?”, I hear Sinclair. Moments later I land a 5 lbs+ snapper, a beautiful fish, vibrant colours, fought hard and perfect size.
Third bait, whole squid again, fourth cast, I tell myself this is my last cast for a while, I’ve got dinner and more, stop fishing after this and shoot photos. Low tide was at 13:30, we started fishing about 14:00, it is 14:05 now. This is top fishing, I think. Not for too long, because, Kabooooom, I strike, the drag setting is already high, the rod loads up, the fish goes for its first run. I can feel the knocking of its head against the strain of the line, it is a snapper, I’m sure and it is more than 10 lbs. Turned out to be even bigger than that.
The fish was well hooked and could therefore be released easily. I put my rod away and dice pilchards and squid, which I chuck into the water to keep this action alive. Sinclair and I reflect on what’s happening. This is, and I don’t use this word lightly, amazing fishing. It is also mentioned that sometimes you need to push through the gorse to get this sort of action. It’s about fishing areas no one goes to, not even you. There is no secret.
For the next 20 minutes, I walk around, explore, make photographs. I don’t feel like walking too far away though, Sinclair’s going to hook into big fish and I want to be around to help. Let’s be honest, he can manage a big fish on his own, I want to get action shots.
Sinclair catches a couple kahawai, then crushes kina and chucks them into water to get the snapper to come closer. He casts a whole fillet of kahawai and is rewarded with a 21+ lbs snapper. You have to stop these fish when fishing off the rocks, especially when you haven’t fished the area before. Snapper have tiny hearts, its size surprisingly more or less independent of the fish size. Therefore, they don’t have much stamina. Sinclair lands the fish in less than a minute.
Just like we didn’t discuss where to cast, we also don’t discuss whether such beautiful fish get released. Fortunately, this one and the previous were hooked in the mouth, easy to release. We’ll catch smaller ones for food and let the big, old, breeders go. When people ask me in the future why one would release a “trophy” fish like this, I’ll just point out the smile on this man’s face as he is releasing his catch. Look how happy he is.
He’s in full swing now, we release the shark, I put my camera away for a brief moment (not sure why) and Sinclair’s into another big snapper. Another double-figure (in lbs) snapper. He wants to release it, but realises that he can’t go home empty-handed. “Snapper, your fate depends on me catching a smaller one.” He catches and releases more kahawai. 20 minutes later, still no snapper, and I realize that we did not catch a single under-sized snapper. They are either L or XL-sized, this is extreme land-based snapper fishing, and it doesn’t get better than this. Period.
It’s 1500, we’ve got a bit of a hike out, that bloody gorse, the unmarked track. The two fish are in top condition in the rock pools, I’ll kill and clean mine in a moment, Sinclair’s not sure about his and is having a last go at catching a smaller one. “Your destiny depends on me catching a smaller snapper.”, he repeats. I decide to have a go as well. The plan works, a kahawai head attracts a decent snapper, which is immediately arrested and the big moocher’s destiny is settled. He goes back.
More Than Fishing
An hour later, we’re at the car, the dead sheep is gone, we joke about it. There is less cloud-cover, the sun is low and the light golden, ahead of us lies the windy, unsealed road, and, since we both took note of it, I mention that we don’t see a person or car on the return trip either.
For many, this is a story, perhaps a dream, the dream of phenomenal fishing, of landing that 20 pound snapper off the rocks, of going to New Zealand, of changing your lifestyle, consuming less, escaping the noise of cities and people and living off the grid on a small Island on the bottom of the Pacific. For others it might be the dream of taking a day off and embarking on an adventure with a friend, having a worry-free, me-day, or it might be the dream of being mobile again, breathing in the fresh sea-breeze or as simple as being free and not oppressed.
With all this bullshit in the media, with the atrocities committed by the same who claim to establish equality, with all those muppets spreading hate with comments and other actions, with all that sort of news and behaviour that I cannot watch, read, talk or even think about, I thought that this story will be refreshing for you. Even if you don’t go fishing. This is more than a story about fishing.
P.S. You can view the best photos in full-screen mode with higher resolution on my photography site.