Sunday morning, 0630, Great Barrier Island, Tryphena. While the rooster is crowing, I’m putting pre-tied rigs into my fishing pack and am getting ready to head out. My plan is simple but sound. It is a calm day, slightly overcast, a northerly wind will develop later in the morning, low tide is at 0930 and while most are still in their beds, Rani – the fishing dog – and I are about to embark on a land-based fishing adventure.
Tryphena and the spot I’m heading to in particular had received a battering by the sea over the last days. Gale force winds and the pounding of ocean waves had stirred things loose and up.
0640, whilst en route in the car, I spot a pod of dolphins and stop. Watching them for a minute before realising that I will be seeing them again very soon.
I am using two setups:
- 7/0 and 5/0 hooks on 80 lbs trace, about a meter long, linked to the main line (30 lbs)
- 4/0 and 2/0 hooks on 30 lbs trace, about a meter long, linked to the main line (15 lbs)
- no weights, hooks tied with snood (small) and uni-knot (big) about 10 cm apart, no swivel
Nothing for the first 30 minutes. The burley is deploying nicely. I am watching the water and dicing up squid into small chunks. I throw a handful of these into the water and observe.
The first small kahawai shows up (finally), swallowing the unhooked free-flowing baits in a frantic fashion. Its feast is, however, over when he takes the hooked bait. Moments later he is swimming in a bucket. I swap to the small rod/reel combo and arrest about a handful more kahawai. Amongst them a small snapper, which I release carefully.
Rani starts making noises, I look over at her, then to the sea and there they are. The pod of dolphins from before swim past, maybe 5-8 m away. ‘Nice to see you guys, now go on, I’m busy here.’
I land the first ‘keeper’ snapper (30-something cm) at about 0830. Half of the burley is already gone and I switch back to the big rod/reel combo, casting whole squid. Waiting for a big snapper. I cast into the distance and allow the current to take the bait to my right. After it feels right, I start retrieving a few meters fast – to avoid snagging – and then allow the bait to sink slowly again.
This spot boast deep water right in close, a strong current and there is a small bay to my right. Judging by the rocky beach and the kelp I can see, this bay provides food and shelter for all kinds of fish and mammals.
I repeat this process and after re-baiting, try casting further to my left, letting the bait sink without being carried out that far by the current. Still nothing, so I cast right up close and into the burley trail, watching the bait sink. Too often have I seen a snapper grab the bait in close. Especially the bigger ones.
On a retrieve, I stop for the last time, allowing the bait to sink maybe 6 meters in front of me (‘one more go before I retrieve completely and re-bait…’). The small squid sinks slowly and when it is too deep for me to see, and I’m about to reel in, a strong pull. KAAWOOOM, a very strong pull, thumping, I adjust my stance as line peels off the reel. I’m onto it and increase the drag by half a turn.
The rod aiming high, the rod butt against my abdomen and I’m exerting pressure onto the fish. Feels like the fish is pulling even harder. Need to ‘stop the fish’ and turn its head around; the drag is increased another notch.
‘This is a serious fight’, I’m thinking; meanwhile, the fish gains 5 meters and as it stops and changes direction, I very quickly regain 3-4 meters. This goes on for a hand full of times. This fish is giving it all, trying to get some distance from me. I have reached the maximum drag setting I’m comfortable with. A tricky scenario, keep increasing the drag and the line will eventually snap, or allow the fish to gain line and eventually snag you.
I can’t see the fish and feel in control, I’m calm, merely holding on and aiming high when the fish has its go, and retrieving as quickly as I can when it lets me have one. A few minutes into the battle and I’m on top of the action. I can tell its a snapper. I step back and up onto a rock to obtain higher ground, awaiting to see some colour.
Orange but more white – the water is still shaded and dark – are the colours I see. A massive snapper and it doesn’t like being this close to the surface. It tries again with what is has left in energy reserves to escape this dreadful situation and gain depth and distance on me. I decrease the drag by half a notch, as at this stage of the fight, there is no need to keep maximum drag. On the contrary, leaving too much pressure on often results in the awful ‘piiing’ sound when the line finally breaks, right at your feet. Not a good way to lose a fish…
‘This one will be released, it’s way too big. No question. I’ll land you onto the kelp and slide you up slowly, give you a pet, take the hook out and slide you back in.’ I am already over the moon. This plan seems to be very sound, as I land the huge snapper onto a patch of rock and kelp at the water’s edge. The snapper is more exhausted than afraid.
I can’t see the keeper hook though, they are both inside the fish. I have to grab the fish and bring it up onto a safe height to get the hooks out. Due to its size and previous experience of dropping fish onto rocks, I avoid lifting it up by the tail or lifting it with two hands on its side.
Carefully with one hand through the gill plate, avoiding the gills, a compromise surely but a safe way to carry a big snapper. It was heavy and I knew this was a new personal best.
The snapper is placed in a shallow rock pool and I try for the next 5 minutes to get the hooks out with pliers. I get the keeper hook out, but the hook at the terminal side of the rig is deep inside the guts. I can’t even see it in the mouth region. I feel convinced that the hook has caused plenty damage and if this hasn’t determined its fate, then not being able to eat surely will. The snapper looks still very powerful though.
I kill the huge snapper. There are four kahawai and a snapper in the rock pool, and I kill the kahawai in the bucket and cast a scaled fillet out, put the rod into a holder and tend to cleaning the catch. The rod bends over hard and line peels off. Another snapper, great eating size 40 cm+. They are on the bite now.
This one was 20.12 pound and 82 cm long and took 4-5 minutes to land. If you are wondering why release a fish like this:
- big ones don’t taste good
- lots of work to fillet a fish like that cleanly, tedious job and often enough messy
- as a result heaps of waste
- this fish is probably 60-100 years old and can – I assume – produce hundreds of thousands of offspring each year
The challenge for today is to eat a whole, big snapper head and as if this was not enough action, I just got a call and was challenged to a game of table tennis. A local TT enthusiast has told a visitor I played in the ‘A League in Europe’… The guest was apparently not impressed.