The Blues have been training hard as they prepare for the kick-off to the Super 15 competition next month, so hard in fact that when the opportunity popped up to knock off early a week ago and board a 22m luxury cruiser for some fishing - well, it was a short discussion.
"We have a lot of young boys in the team, and many of them have never been fishing before," said Blues captain Ali Williams. "It has been a tough week of training, and they are really looking forward to this," he said as they climbed to the poop deck on the Nirvana. Of the 75 craft Decked Out Yachting has on its books, Nirvana is one of the top boats for comfort and luxury.
Ali is an old hand at snapper fishing in the harbour and he spent all afternoon looking after his young players, helping them bait hooks and showing them how to work the rod. If the camaraderie and obvious bonding is any indication, the Blues will be more of a force on the rugby field this year.
The first spot in the Rangitoto Channel performed like most of the fishing around Auckland has this summer - myriad baby snapper, which often finish up as dinner for the shags which hang around the sterns of boats fishing in the channels.
It always impresses newcomers just how large a snapper these skinny birds can swallow. They watch and wait for a fish to be hauled up, then dart over to where it is dropped. Snapper longer than 20cm are grabbed and the feathered fisherman swims away down the current, struggling to up-end the fish grasped sideways in its powerful, sharp-edged beak. It is sometimes comical to watch, but the shag always wins.
It eventually gets its meal head-first in its mouth, its own head pointing to the sky, then straightens its thin neck and, with an almighty effort, forces the hapless fish down into its gullet, millimetre by millimetre. The bulge doesn't stop it from returning for more.
What was probably a large stingray had one of the young men working hard on the rod, but he couldn't stop it and eventually the line parted and the unseen fish disappeared, much to the chagrin of the angler and the cause of much ribbing from his mates.
Captain Dave Mead then headed back up Waitemata Harbour, under the harbour bridge. The boats here have been thick enough to walk on in recent weeks, and there are plenty of fish in the harbour.
The problem can be the tides. When tides are big, 3.2m or more, the current races through the narrow parts, making fishing hard as baits are swept up off the bottom. But, on small tides, the fishing can be hot.
On this day the tide was coming in, and it was close to high tide, so the current was easing, and the 20m hole off Kauri Point was surrounded by small boats. Captain Mead found a gap, dropped the anchor, and the flasher rigs sweetened with chunks of pilchard and fresh mullet were soon attracting good-sized snapper. The yells and yahoos rose to a new scale as rods bent and muscles bulged, and the pile of snapper in the chilly bin grew and grew.
"What are we going to do with all these fish?" asked Ali. "I don't think these boys will be very good at taking the fillets off them."
A quick phone call to Billfish, the cafe-restaurant overlooking the marina at Z Pier in Westhaven, solved the dilemma. They were happy to fillet the fish, and turn them into platters of fish and chips. Soon great piles of chips and crispy brown battered fish were delivered to the table, and they didn't last long.
There are some real advantages to playing footy in the queen city, and the next outing is already being discussed. Meanwhile, Luke Braid wants to catch his first kingfish and a bronze whaler shark is also on the bucket list for one of the boys, so watch this space.By Geoff Thomas