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A day's fishing can sometimes be like a round of golf: while the score at the end of the day is good, you might have ground out a less-than-spectacular first nine holes to stay in the hunt, before coming home over the back nine with a flourish to beat your handicap. Our Bay of Islands winners' trip was a bit like this.
Auckland prize-winners Carl and Edwina McKenzie had their name drawn from the more than 10,000 subscribers. The prize included two nights' bed and breakfast at the Copthorne Hotel and Resort Bay of Islands, along with a day's fishing with the well-known Bay of Islands skipper Captain Bucko, accompanied by the writer and Faith ('Mrs Fishing News').
The forecast was closely watched for the week leading up to the fishing day, and all indications were that the Saturday would see no more than 15-knot southeasterlies.
The original plan was to head out wide for a 'puka and then perhaps a kingfish and snapper session to follow, as time allowed.
But, like all the best-laid fishing plans of mice and men, someone forgot to order the right weather. On the Friday night, sitting in the comfort of the Copthorne's house bar putting together our game plan, we could see out over the bay from Waitangi and it was not a pretty sight. The sea was cloaked in white as the tops of the waves were knocked off by the 25-plus knots of breeze, and the palm trees waved around like the flags of a semaphore signalman on amphetamines. To put it bluntly, it was looking ugly, and the forecast was for 20 knots of the same in the morning.
At this point Captain Bucko joined us, and over an enjoyable dinner, where NZ Fishing News contributor, skipper and noted lure maker Graeme 'Bonze' Fleet regaled us with tales of his worldly adventures, especially at Cape Verde, West Africa, our game plan was rearranged.
The 7 o'clock start would have us catching live bait as the first priority, and these would be deployed at Spot X, a location that the good Captain had received some 'reliable' intelligence on. Just a few days before, one of the local anglers had landed a 29 pounder there, along with several others over the magical 20lb mark.
The sea state was not that uncomfortable as we left Waitangi Wharf, heading for Roberton Island and the schools of mackerel baitfish that normally hang out on its southern side.
If the bait fishing was any indication, it was going to be a slow day all-round. The mackerel turned out to be thinly scattered around the area, and it took a good hour for a respectable load to grace Blue Angel's cavernous live-bait tank.
After scoping out a few spots with the sounder, we settled close to Robertson Island's northeastern corner, where live-baits were cast into the wash.
The Captain had brought a heap of old baitfish and frames with him, which he chunked up and dropped in, the current taking the enticing titbits towards the wash. To me, it looked like an incredibly fishy spot, and one where a respectable fish might be hanging out.
Carl was the first to get hit, and it was a decent fish that picked up his live bait and headed for open ground. That was the good bit; the bad part was that I'd suggested he might bring along his favourite snapper stick, which he'd done, and unfortunately was loaded with 6kg mono of unknown vintage. Consequently, as soon as the fight began in earnest, it promptly broke.
Indeed, upon further testing we found his 6kg line could be broken with ease, but fortunately the Captain carries a good range of tackle on board, so a suitable Daiwa combo was soon redeployed - but the 'photo opportunity' remained lost.
After rocking and rolling around on this point for several hours with little or no result, it was time to re-think the plan. (The good thing about being on board with such an experienced skipper is that they generally have some good options, even when the weather is a limiting factor - and this was certainly the case with Captain Bucko, who has fished these waters for some 25 years.)
So we tried several other spots with no great success, although a small hammerhead gave Edwina a good run for her money at one location.
"Our next stop will be at a spot that has produced the goods for us on the outgoing tide, which is about now, so let's give it a try," was the decision from the bridge.
We anchored up in a position that saw the boat nicely placed, the wind and tide combining well to allow stray-lining back into a patch of sand, with foul ground positioned nearby on our port side.
Were things about to change in our favour? It was a location I'd fished before with some success, and even the wind was starting to ease a little.
Slowly we began work on our 'scorecard', with a couple of nice pannies soon bought on board. These fish were quickly ikied with the Ikigun (see the Tackle Test section of this edition) and then bled with a quick cut to the gill section. Captain Bucko asked if I bled my snapper, and I had to admit I'd not heard of the practice. He said it changed the colour of the fillet to a 'brighter white', and when the time came to break down the fish, he was right.
After this, thanks to a steady rather than spectacular bite, the fish started to come on board, and as Bucko kept the chunk trail going, you always felt there was a good fish out there somewhere.
Edwina was the first to nail a decent fish, bringing a nice 4.5kg snapper to the boat after giving her a good scrap. Then, soon after, a slightly bigger specimen followed, courtesy of the writer. At the time I was fishing with my favourite line-weight of 6kg, and the fish steamed off at a great rate of knots into the foul ground, where I could feel the line rubbing over the kelp.
With no choice but to free-spool line back in the hope that the fish would swim it free, the strategy worked in my favour, and it was game on again. Something didn't feel quite right though, as the head shakes were followed by dead weight pulling against me ('dragging some kelp perhaps?' ran through my head).
Slowly line was regained, and then we had colour: a nice 6kg snapper - coming in sideways! While happy with the fish, I'd built my hopes up for something a little bigger, but that's fishing.
By the time we left this spot we had a respectable catch in the bin - a result of the skipper and anglers grinding it out, but finishing with a good score.
Back in the calm at Waitangi, Captain Bucko and I processed the catch, setting aside two whole fish around the 40cm mark and a bag of fillets to be delivered to Mayling and Winsom Kwok, owners of the King Wah restaurant in Paihia's downtown mall. These guys have been producing great meals for many years, and what they prepared for us later that evening was something special, with the chefs preparing the whole and filleted snapper four different ways, accompanied by rice and vegetables. This was food fit for kings, and I didn't think we would get through everything when it first came out, but I was mistaken. There was very little left on the plates, with even the eyes and brains being enjoyed by several in our party.
Bucko says he regularly points clients in the direction of King Wah and it gets rave reviews. The owners say they are happy to prepare any anglers' catch - hapuku, snapper, kingfish or cod - all can be dealt with for a modest charge. However, they do prefer that the big fish are filleted, while the smaller specimens (up to 40cm) are better suited to being cooked whole.
The meal was a fantastic way to sign off on the winners' trip, leaving a great taste in our mouths in more ways than one!
Captain Bucko and Blue Angel
With over 25 years as a fisherman and tourist operator in the Bay of Islands, Captain Bucko (you will have to suss out his 'proper' name) offers a range of water-borne services aboard his Yamaha charter vessel.
These vary from a few hours of snapper fishing through to a full-on day chasing the bigger species such as kingfish and 'puka out wide. All bait and tackle are provided.
Captain Bucko caters for anglers of all ages and experience level. He is a fun guy to fish with, having plenty of one liners and quips to keep a smile on his clients' dials, even when the fish are not so co-operative!
And it is not just fishing trips Captain Bucko offers; he will take out private charters shared among friends who might just want a relaxing day on the water exploring the likes of the Hole in the Rock or any one of the myriad bays or islands - after all, there are around 40 of the latter to choose from.
Captain Bucko will take group bookings for up to six anglers, or do his best to put together trips among individuals.
Blue Angel is a 7.5m Japanese-built Yamaha hull that's re-powered with a new Suzuki 175hp outboard. It gets the anglers quickly to the fishing grounds, so more time is spent with bait in the water rather than travelling. There is a toilet on board, something appreciated by the ladies in particular, and it boasts one of the biggest live-bait tanks I've ever seen on a boat this size.
Filleting the catch at the end of the day is all part of the Captain Bucko service!
NZ Fishing News would like to thank Captain Bucko (www.captainbucko.co.nz), email@example.com, the team at the Copthorne Hotel and Resort, Bay of Islands (www.millenniumhotels.co.nz and firstname.lastname@example.org), and Mayling and Winsom Kwok at the King Wah Restaurant for their contribution to this feature.
- © Fairfax NZ News