Geoff Thomas

Geoff Thomas on fishing

Geoff Thomas: Band of tough brothers

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Andy (left) and Ginty Morrogh lean into hapuku while Lionel Korach (right) tackles a red snapper on his light rod. Photo / Geoff Thomas
Andy (left) and Ginty Morrogh lean into hapuku while Lionel Korach (right) tackles a red snapper on his light rod. Photo / Geoff Thomas

The Morrogh boys are well known around Ahipara, and when their black tractor and 9m aluminium catamaran, WildCat 1, chug along the road the locals start turning up. They know there will be fish on the menu that night, for the huge ice box on the deck always holds fish - fat hapuku, sleek kingfish, snapper and occasionally a marlin.

"We caught 16 different species one day," said skipper Andy Morrogh, who with his brother, Ginty, makes sure visitors have a memorable day on the water. They brought in a broadbill swordfish one day and everybody went home carrying a big chunk of the delectable white flesh.

It is the local way. The bounty of the sea is to be shared and enjoyed. It might be a crayfish or a bag of scallops, tuatua, fillets or even the heads and frames of large fish, for nothing goes to waste.

Like all west coast fisheries the weather and the sea conditions determine when you can get out. There is no launching ramp on Ninety Mile Beach, and as the huge cat slides off the trailer into the surf, Andy uses the powerful shoulders that made him a feared opponent on the rugby field to push the heavy boat around until the blunt bows are taking on the surging rollers that pound the beach.

Everything is on a big scale on this coast. It is water to be respected and having the right equipment and local knowledge is imperative.

Tractors may last for five years, and the maintenance bills are high.

The twin 200-horsepower Mercury Verado motors on the back have done 5,000 hours and run sweetly as Andy nudges the throttles forward and waits for a lull in the surf that comes sweeping in to crash on the sand in a welter of foam and white water. Then he guns the motors and the cat leaps forward, slowing as it rides up a wave and drops down the other side until the rollers are left behind and the boat settles down to cruise out towards the famed Ahipara Banks about 25km towards Australia. There are two banks, the north and south banks, and they stretch over kilometres of seabed.

The rocky structures are rich in fish life, and the first item on the agenda is kingfish. Andy studies the screen of the fish finder, and when he is happy with the dense cloud hovering above the rocks he calls out to the anglers: "Ready. Go." And as the heavy jigs plummet down he adds: "They are 10 metres up." The stubby jig rods whip up and down in tune with half-winds of the reel as the curious mechanical jigging action whips the lures up and down far below the boat. A rod suddenly bends over, then another until all three anglers are leaning into fish. The first to surface is a barracouta, one of the shiny, sharp-mouthed predators which slash at anything in the water, often severing the line cleanly. "The tackle shops' friend," mutters one angler as he holds up his empty line.

Then a green and yellow shape materialises in the green water and a respectable kingfish is hauled on board, the hook deftly twisted out and the fish slides head first beneath the surface. One will be kept for the table, and all others returned.

"Enough kingies?" asks Andy after five have been returned. "Get out the puka rigs." Jigs are removed and heavy traces with recurved hooks and long, thick sinkers clipped on. Andy wants to check out a pinnacle 4km away as it is the first trip of the summer charter season after a winter of working crayfish pots.

"Good sign," he says, studying the screen. The schools of fish are bright red marks hovering over the top of the pin, and smaller blue shapes clinging to the sides are promising. Those are the puka.

Baits are a strip of barracouta with a pilchard added to sweeten the "cocktail" and the heavy sinkers pull the baits quickly out of sight.

"I'm enjoying this," says Ginty as he leans into the first fish. "We don't usually get to fish ourselves."

Lionel Korach from Memorymakers Charters helps arrange trips in the area, and he joins the brothers as their rods bend and the first puka wallow on the surface. Then he switches to a light rod with one of the new inchuku jigs on the end and a red snapper joins the puka in the fish bin.

The day finishes with half a dozen hapuku and the same number of red snapper, one kingfish and a bunch of snapper.

Back at the house the locals sit around the huge cleaning table waiting for a piece of fish for tea, and the first drinks are cracked as the afternoon wanes. It has been another memorable day on Wildcat 1.

Andy Morrogh can be contacted by email at target='_blank'>wildcat1@extra.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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