User Fishing Reports
It’s hard to decide where the origins of this story really lie.
It could be 40 years ago, when Stu Hunt and others decided to formalise their fishing adventures and form the North Shore Surfcasting Club (NSSC). Or perhaps it is nearly 20 years ago, when I moved to Auckland and caught my first snapper? Then there’s the most recent chapter of the story, which kicks off in a small plane above Great Barrier Island.
Regardless of the beginning, all three tales have the same ultimate goal – to catch a 20lb snapper.
Aotea/Great Barrier Island is a favourite hunting ground for fishos from Auckland and beyond, its isolation and rugged terrain offering sanctuary to the many big snapper that reside along its shores. This probably explains the regular visits made to the Barrier by the NSSC over the last 38 years.
In the evening, after a hard day’s walk to a remote Barrier rock ledge, members of the NSSC’s ‘old guard’ may be heard reminiscing about the ‘old days’ at Barrier. These stories are filled with giant moocher snapper munching on whole kahawai and then setting off for Chile at unstoppable speed, as well as tales where the berley trail is full of snapper, but every time you cast a big bait, it’s frustratingly scoffed by the small 10-pounders!
While these stories sound like myths, sometimes they turn into reality. Club President, Trevor Savory, set the records alight after landing a 14.190kg (32½lb) monster from the southern shores of Great Barrier in 1993. This stood as the largest snapper landed from the rocks until 1997.
One of the favourite tales of former club president, Ted Audain, is of the mighty fight won by Mike Pipi.
In 1992 Mike tussled with an inconceivably large 37.48kg (85lb) kingfish at Cape Barrier, using that ‘old faithful’ club favourite, an Alvey reel. (Known for their ruggedness and longevity, Alveys have been the backbone of the club since its formation.)
Mike’s Alvey subdued the record kingfish one turn at a time. Nothing fancy, just strong and reliable. Ted’s face contorts as he talks us through the fight. It’s a tale, told as if Ted was suffering the blows himself, well-honed, but worn by the years; seemingly brighter every time Ted tells it.
It is with ambitions of catching fish worthy of these tales that Derrick, my fishing buddy, and I landed at Great Barrier this April for the club’s annual Barrier competition. We had five days to find our quarry, followed by three days of club competition. Our method of attack was to kayak into the remote rock ledges around the island, while casting soft-baits along the way.
We wasted no time in our pursuit, setting out at first light, despite inclement conditions. We weren’t able to venture far, and as a result our success was limited. But as can happen on the Barrier, Derrick pulled a respectable 4kg snapper out of nowhere before deciding to seek shelter.
Our next few days fishing were similarly hampered by weather, but with our kayaks on the roof of our car, we drove around the island in search of shelter. Each night we would exchange stories with some of the other club members who had ventured over before the competition.
Unfortunately, everyone had the same story: “lots of snapper, but nothing large”. However, as with all fishing, and especially at the Barrier, you’re only one cast away from changing your fortunes.
On the morning before the club competition began, the seas calmed and Derrick and I ventured out onto the east coast of the island. Within two hours we had caught and released 30 snapper of 2kg or less – a good rate of accumulation, just not the target size.
About this time I began to accept that this was not to be my day, and I guess the fishing gods must have sensed this. As my soft-bait sunk, something large sucked it down and headed out to sea. This was fortunate, as I was fishing in shallow, weedy water. Had the fish run with the same amount of enthusiasm towards the shore, it probably would have been swimming in fresh water before it stopped.
After towing me 150 metres or so, the fish did turn shoreward, but not before I was able to retrieve enough line so that my kayak was directly over the fish. This is where the battle really began.
No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t lift the fish from under my kayak. This stalemate persisted for the next couple of minutes, and my forearms began to cramp. Looking down I could see the large golden shape lunging downward, burying its head in the kelp, but for some reason I remained relaxed.
The fishing gods must have looked upon this favourably too, as I was eventually able to lift the fish clear of the reef and up to the surface. Looking at it on the surface, I estimated its weight at between 5 and 6kg, and was about to release it, but with one last glance, I thought confirming the weight might be worthwhile.
So I slid the scales under a flap of skin on the fish’s chin, being careful not to touch the fragile gills. As I lifted, the scales dropped to 6kg, and only the head was out of the water. Huh? I lifted further and the scales plummeted below 9.1kg (the magical 20lb mark) and continued past 10 as well!
I couldn’t comprehend that I had finally caught the fish I had been waiting so long for and not realised it.
I thought I would have known right from the moment it first took off with my bait.
I screamed out to Derrick, who was engaged with his own battle. He quickly finished his fight and released a 7kg snapper before paddling over. After a couple of quick photos I returned the fish to the water, and with a little bit of coaxing it swam out of sight. I had done it. My goal of the last 20 years had finally been achieved.
Returning back to our camp, a few celebratory drinks were in order before settling in early for the next three days of club competition. The days of scouting out the best spots and catching fresh bait in anticipation of the competition were over.
In all, 13 hardy souls had ventured over for the club-fish. Most of them tend to display a degree of competitive camaraderie when it comes to club competitions; they’ll get up before the sun to alight on remote rock ledges from small tinnies or kayaks in pursuit of the dawn bite. And over the next three days club members fished both coasts, from Cape Barrier in the south to the Needles in the north, all in search of the big one.
At the end of the three days some pretty decent snapper had been caught, with four snapper heavier than 5kg landed from the rocks. The largest went to Paul Retter, who caught and released an 18lb (8.15kg) snapper to win the competition. Paul also managed a very respectable 21lb (9.5kg) snapper the day after the competition – a great fish despite the timing.
It’s about here that the threads of this tale come together. The NSSC represents a group of individuals who all share the ambition of catching big fish from the rocks. Great Barrier Island is central to a large part of these individual experiences, which forms the club’s history. This year the NSSC will be celebrating 40 years, and welcomes all past and present members to attend the 40th Anniversary on Saturday, November 1, at the Milford Cruising Club. The photos, trophies and mounted fish that embody the club and its tradition will all be on display. If the stories described here sound like your idea of a fun day out, please visit our website www.nssc.co.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about membership.
Darren Parsons - October 2008
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