Few of Dawn Ralfe's neighbours at Arkles Bay know that this cheerful 64-year-old grandmother scooped the women's world title for catching a snapper.
Her record 16.35 kilogram giant, certified by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), has never been equalled since she landed it in 1998.
What makes her triumph more remarkable is that for 10 years Mrs Ralfe, who has four children and six grandchildren, had to inject herself with insulin five times daily to counter chronic type 1 diabetes.
"Through the diabetic clinic at Waikato Hospital I was the second person to go on an insulin pump and when I caught the snapper I had been on one for only two months.
"At first I thought it might be cumbersome and interfere with life but it's quite the opposite. I can still enjoy the sea and snorkel."
Enjoying the sea off Whangamata was precisely what she and husband Henry were doing on April 11, 1998.
"We noticed a large workup of birds near Slipper Island and it wasn't long before we were getting strikes of kahawai and pan-sized snapper," she says.
"Then Henry's rod bent in half and he landed a lovely big kingfish - great for the smoker. Then my rod also bent in half and I thought maybe it was another kingfish.
"The line ran out for a while and Henry put a support belt around my waist. I started to pump action my rod, a Penn power stick 45GLS using Penn 15kg line with Black Magic KS5/0 hooks on a ledger rig."
As she worked the fish towards the boat it felt "like a lump of very heavy concrete".
"When it came to the surface we were dumbfounded by the sight of this awesome snapper," she says. "It was too big for our landing net so a friend who'd joined us carefully gaffed it and brought it on board.
"Knowing it could be a record snapper, we covered it in wet towels to stop it dehydrating and headed excitedly to Whangamata wharf."
The weighmaster said it was 16.35kg so the snapper went into a chest freezer to await transport to a taxidermist.
Full details were sent to the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council which forwarded them to the IGFA in Florida.
Mrs Ralfe had registered the catch under her maiden name Irvine and that's why in September 1998 "Dawn Irvine" received a certificate and congratulatory letter from IGFA president Michael Leech. The mounted snapper is displayed at the Whangamata Ocean Sports Club. In addition to still being a women's world title winner, it secured the either-sex New Zealand record for Mrs Ralfe.
Now she and Henry do much of their fishing out of Gulf Harbour aboard their boat Ocean Lady.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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