Hook, line ... and orca
Fisherman Rob Page had never seen anything like it – an adult killer whale was "smoking" line off the reel so fast and for so long it was nearly too hot to touch.
Mr Page, of Forest Lake, Hamilton, was on board the 8-metre C Crazy 2 on Saturday with three others trawling lures during a tuna and marlin fishing tournament off Gisborne.
About 65 kilometres offshore they hit a boil-up, with tuna torpedoing into the air among the sea birds.
Mr Page spotted whale spouts nearby, which turned out to be a pod of up to five orca. "We just cruised past and carried on following the birds," he said.
"We had a couple of inquisitive ones [orca] start being nosy – one in particular started following us."
Skipper Robbie Lewis said the orca "porpoised" in their wake and "all of a sudden it dived out of the water and landed on the lure".
Line peeled off the spool. "I'd had a couple of energy drinks by that time and I thought I was hallucinating," he said.
"I wasn't hallucinating. I've never heard of it, and I've done a lot of fishing. To see what we saw was unbelievable."
First-time big game fisherman Charlie Dostounis grabbed the rod and harness.
Mr Page said when the orca realised it was hooked, it nearly spooled the reel by swimming 800 metres down.
They considered cutting the line but they didn't want to leave hundreds of metres of heavy nylon dragging from the hook. After playing the estimated five tonne animal for 45 minutes, the line broke and only short piece of trace and lure were lost.
Whangarei orca expert Ingrid Visser said she knew of two similar cases – one near White Island and another in the Bay of Islands. She suspected the whale was curious and became foul hooked.
"They're incredibly smart animals," she said. "There are records of them taking fish off longlines ... They come up carefully, take the fish by the tip of the tail and pull them until they pop off the hook, so they do understand the concept of hooks to some degree."
Ms Visser's advice to fisherman is to reel in lures if they see orca nearby.