People & Places
I’ve fallen for the Far North, with its potentially endless fishing opportunities year round, and the quantity and the quality of the fish.
And not just the fishing, but the hospitality, the laid-back atmosphere and the magnificent scenery – it’s the complete package.
It all began when we learned the Ninety Mile Beach Surfcasting Club was hosting the NZACA Surfcasting National Championships in mid April, 2008. Dion and I managed to wrangle the time off work and, after a few phone calls, we were off to stay with ex-Napier local, clubbie and good mate, Ian ‘Smithy’ Smith.
This man learnt to fish from the middle of the road overlooking Parengarenga, and anyone who knows Smithy doesn’t have a bad word to say about him (especially as he’s 6’8” and built like a brick toilet!).
We left Napier behind at 6:30am and arrived at Smithy’s place, just north of Te Kao, at 5:30pm, a threatening sky screaming rain. The long-range weather sounded bleak too, with thunderstorm warnings, strong winds and heavy rain, but we didn’t care. We were here!
Smithy greeted us with a “You fullas bought this crap weather up with you?” before shoving cold bottles of Tui nectar in our faces and telling us to sit and feast on wild pork and fresh-smoked snapper. Beauty! What a great start.
As we feasted, Smithy said, “Tomorrow we’ll go to The Ninety and drag for some mullet for bait and a feed, then have a cast off the Bluff.”
So, despite the next morning dawning wet and windy, Dion, Smithy, his ‘better half Morehu, his mate John Boy and I headed for the Ninety, which, after the strong nor’east blow, was incredibly flat.
Five drags of the net gave us a bin full of fat grey mullet destined for the smokehouse, bar a few that we planned to use as fresh bait.
We then headed back to the Bluff to clean and prepare the catch and throw a couple of baits into the tide. This resulted in a couple of snapper and a gurnard, but with the rain getting heavier, it was soon time to head for shelter and a feed of hot-smoked mullet.
After filling the smokehouse with several mullet, darkness had encroached and it was still raining, but we had a few hours to kill before the fish would be ready.
“Let’s head out and go for a fish on Great Exhibition.” Though the weather was nasty, Smithy didn’t need to twist our arms behind our backs, so off we went.
Now, I’ve neglected to mention Smithy’s mode of transport: a Nissan Patrol 4x4. It comes complete with noxious fumes, a driver’s side door that opens randomly by itself and an exhaust – or lack thereof – that is loud enough to wake the dead. It does, however, go anywhere and everywhere, and it took us down onto a white-sand beach they call Great Exhibition and then on to one of Smithy’s holes. Although dark, it was still surprisingly bright, due to the white silica sands reflecting what light there was.
After assembled our tackle, we were straight into fish: some very hungry, scrappy kahawai to 2kg. This kept us amused for a couple of hours, but as the kahawai were hammering the baits as soon as they hit the water, the snapper didn’t stand a chance.
So, with the thought of hot-smoked mullet getting the better of us, we headed back. And yes, the fish turned out to be just as delicious as we imagined, especially when washed down with a cold Tui.
We awoke to still showery conditions, but we were tough and soon back at our first possie just north of Matapia Island. Here, a nice sand spit meant a short walk and wade out put us into a prime channel to fish.
It didn’t take long – about two minutes – before my rod doubled over, with Dion’s going the same way not long after that. We were attached to some fat, string-pulling snapper in the 1.5 to 3kg range, and we couldn’t help laughing and shaking our heads. I wondered what I would have been doing at work on a Monday mid-afternoon, laughed again, rigged another bait, cast out, and hooked up once more.
It didn’t matter what flavour we used – fresh mullet, squid or pillies – all worked; it was a snapper plague! In fact, at times I would only get part way back to my rod stand after casting before my bait would be ambushed by another snapper. The Ninety was on fire!
We did this for a couple of hours, keeping a few snapper for a feed and returning the rest to the ocean, before the tide pushed us out of our channel.
So we shifted to a spot just north of Te Paki Stream, and again, like the last spot, the fishing was chaos.
In fact, my rod never made it back into the rod stand for the first three casts, with the third producing a respectable 3.5kg snapper. Dion and Smithy were enjoying similar action; the water was lousy with fish – a pink tide on The Ninety!
Then, on his last bait, Dion landed a nice 4.5kg snap – the best of the day, and a great way to finish a magic Far North session.
Smithy cut enough flax fronds for the fish we kept, before gutting and gilling them, then stringing the flax through their throats and mouths, ready to be hung up on his clothesline to dry when we returned home.
We went back via Te Paki stream, and were soon home, where we sampled a secret recipe of Smithy’s, involving fresh snapper and cream. Ooh, I’m starting to drool again. Oh my god, it was beautiful!
When we awoke, the rain was pummelling down outside, accompanied by thunderstorms and power outages. The rain gauge registered 100mm in just two hours!
So what do you do when your power goes out? You go fishing, so we headed into Te Kao to pick up Morehu and another 4x4 vehicle named the ‘Bumble Bee’, courtesy of its bright-yellow colour. Having done no 4x4 driving before (just plenty of quad-biking), I took it very cautiously down the track to Great Exhibition. All good and well – until I found this thing had no brakes, and the ignition just fell out onto the floor as I was driving over some humps. It sure was a hair-raising education, but we made it down onto the beach and then followed Smithy along a secret track to Parengarenga Harbour’s tidal mudflats.
“We’re here,” said Smithy. “Don’t stray too far from your rods — there’ll be fish here.”
I thought Smithy was pulling my tit.
“You’ve bought us here to fish in this tea-coloured mud hole, when we could be fishing the sapphire-blue coloured waters of Exhibition!” I thought as we rigged up.
So, expecting little, we cast out. Silly fools. Again, first cast, a short wait, then Dion’s rod went tap, tap before doubling over to a string-pulling head-shaker. We started laughing again – this place was just unbelievable!
Two minutes later, a nice 3kg snapper was slid up onto the mud. This was silly fishing; we were in a harbour with a muddy bottom, surrounded by mangrove trees, hauling out fat snapper!
A minute or so later, same deal for me. These snapper were a brilliant, shiny bronze colour, with electric-green spots. I was in awe. Bait up, cast out, whack, whack, whack – crazy fish, between 2 and 4.5kg, all sliding up onto the shore.
Like the day before, we kept a few for a feed and released the rest. It was fantastic.
The day before I had noticed Smithy and his ‘ye olde faithful’ long trace and 7/0 hook ‘big-bait’ rig.
Yeah, it worked – he caught fish – but not as many as Dion and I did on our “gay-looking beads, needlefish skirts, small 4/0 hook rubbish”. So I gave him some of my “gay-looking fairy traces”, and it didn’t take long to convince him, as he soon started peeling back some nice snapper, as well as a nice 3.5kg kahawai.
In three hours of bedlam fishing, I struggled to find time to sit down and take it all in. This spot was well worth revisiting come contest time.
Back to Exhibition, and again, like every other spot, first-cast hook-ups, but, like the other night, just kahawai and nothing else – although Smithy tells me the snapper can be thick here, too.
We fished on until dusk, and upon arriving home, we found Brett Lawson and his family had arrived and were also staying at Smithy’s.
The next day saw improved weather, so we packed our gear and headed back to the harbour for a reconnaisance day, as well as to catch some more fresh bait and show Brett the fishing spots.
Bait was easily caught, a set-net providing a dozen fresh mullet and a drag-net providing a sack full of piper. No matter where we went, there was plenty of everything.
We fished a couple of spots during the day, capturing a few more nice snapper and some kahawai, before heading back into Kaitaia to go to the contest briefing.
Then it was back to Smithy’s place to prepare for the first of two days’ of competition.
A 3am start saw us on the beach around 4:30am, where we were joined by Pania team-mates, El Presidente James Parahi and his missus Sharon the Bookworm.
We were at Smithy’s hole by 5am, where we waded out about 20 metres before casting, figuring the baits needed to be well out in the deeper water. (We would soon learn this wasn’t necessary.)
El Presidente was first to hook-up – a lively fish that headed for the nearest mangrove tree – and that’s were it stayed!
So James and Brett went out to rescue the fish; with water slopping around their chests, they finally untangled the line and located the splashing fish.
Victim One for James, who was laughing his head off, just as Dion and I had a few days earlier.
The fish slowly turned it on as the change of light approached, and we all bagged a few snapper.
However, the sunlight later revealed we had fallen short of our intended possie by 20 metres!
And when the tide receded, it eventually revealed something I’d never seen before. Down towards the low tide mark we noticed holes that I could only describe as ‘moon craters’. These, we were told by Smithy, were made by snapper digging for food, and it soon became evident that we should have been casting from the shoreline to these, rather than wading out and casting over them.
Next, we moved further down the harbour channel. Piper were leaping everywhere, as they were getting pack-attacked by hungry kahawai and, probably, snapper. Almost every bait got nailed, as we all enjoyed a couple of hours of constant, fast-paced action – mostly kahawai, but occasional snapper, too.
Our third and final possie was the spit at the entrance to the Parengarenga Harbour, and this saw us instantaneously battling with fish once more – snapper, trevally, kahawai – you couldn’t turn away. Blink an eye and you were hooked up! But the time went by too fast, and soon it was time to head back to Kaitaia to weigh our catch.
We arrived to a mass of anglers with bulging chilly bins and endless fishing stories that were as impressive as their catches. Snapper to 8kg, trevally to 6kg, along with several large kahawai, were weighed by the anglers, all of them keeping fairly tight-lipped about where they had caught them. In the end though, Pania clubbies Chad Prentice and Roger Mulvay’s impressive haul of trevally, snapper and kahawai took them to the top of the leader board.
We decided to fish our patch of water again, as with some fine tuning we reckoned we had it sussed for day two.
So up and back into it, this time a little more on the spot and a little wiser. We all cast from the shoreline to avoid scaring any snapper feeding in the shallows ahead of us. This plan certainly paid off, as we were soon into the snapper.
It seemed every time James cast and walked away from his rod, it began screaming out to him: “Wind me in, wind me in!” James was on fire, and in the first possie scored eight weighable snapper to 3.5kg. I also chimed in with two nice fish round 3.5kg, as well as some schoolies and several kahawai.
Then the tide started to move out, so we shifted to spot number two, where three or four casts each produced more snapper and kahawai.
We headed to the harbour entrance earlier than the day before in anticipation of some red-hot fishing, but ended up a little deflated, as the fishing was only a quarter as good as the day before. Even so, Dion and Smithy added some snapper and a few kahawai to their bins, while James was kept amused for half an hour when he hooked a magic carpet (an eagle ray on steroids).
At 3.00pm we headed in for the final Kaitaia weigh-in with another bin full of fish and plenty of smiley faces.
Yet again the Pania boys had scored well. Chad and Roger had dealt to more good trevors, some snapper and kahawai, while Dion, James, Brett, Smithy and I weighed in a good quantity of snapper and kahawai.
Sure enough, prizegiving was a grand affair, with Pania picking up several top awards, including: Top Shore Men’s, Open Shore and all-round Surfcasting Champ: Chad Prentice (well done, mate!); Top Men’s and Open Shore Team: Chad Prentice and myself; Top Veteran Angler: Roger Mulvay; and Top Veteran Team: James Parahi and Roger Mulvay. It was truly the cherry on the top.
Hats off to the Ninety Mile Beach Surfcasting Club for holding such a wonderful, well-run contest. And on a personal note, thank you so much Smithy and Morehu for the invitation and hospitality, as well as for the opportunity to share a special piece of paradise. We will return!
Kane Wrigglesworth - Fishing News - November 2008
- Fishing News