Donna McIntyre sets out in search of the Hauraki Gulf's bounty on a fishing charter boat.
Every day's a good day as long as you're still alive, quips Phil Scott, fishing guide on Waiheke Island.
And right now, I can't think of many places I'd rather be, having a great day and feeling very alive as I try my hand at fishing on the magnificent Hauraki Gulf.
Phil, a born-and-bred islander, (I was born on a boat, he says) has been running Adventure Fishing Charters for some 16 years, after a career in commercial fishing. He makes sure his customers don't go home empty- handed - even novices like me.
It's worth rising early to make our way to Matiatia where Phil is meeting fellow fishers Stephen George and Hamish Anderson off the 6am ferry from Auckland. As soon as Stephen and Hamish arrive, we're out on the briny in Phil's 5.8 Fryan and heading for one of his secret fishing spots. "Do you have to blindfold us?" asks Hamish.
Close by is Mark Brown's Fat Snapper fishing group, our competition, and we're keeping as much of an eye on their fishing rods as we are on ours.
Spot X 101 is somewhere near the Noises. It's 31m deep and Phil tells us we're fishing in the middle of a gut on a contour using overhead rods and reels with pilchards for bait (for those more fish-tech-minded than myself). Phil baits up for us and tells us to "lock and load and smack them on the head".
I get a few nibbles but it's Hamish and Stephen who start landing fish, after first managing to snare each other's hooks. "Spot the city boys," laughs Hamish.
Hamish is standing beside me and lands three snapper in a row.
"What are you going to call your fish?" I ask as he reels in the first.
"Dinner," he replies.
Fair enough, but how come my line has gone quiet? How much is luck and how much is technique, I ask Phil.
It's a mix of both he replies but the secret is to keep the line tight all the way as it goes down. "Tight lines catch fish."
I reel back in and put my line back out, tight all the way. But, Phil adds, you can try too hard to catch fish; sometimes it better to load up, set it up and go and have a pie and a smoke.
Fine if you like pies and smoking.
Next Steve starts reeling them in and then so does my husband Philippe. Perhaps Hamish would swap rods or places with me? Then wahooo... I've got something. I get a bit excited and shriek to Phil to grab my line.
He ignores my pleas as he announces I've got a thresher shark. What the hell am I going to do with a shark?
Anyway, I'm winding the line in as fast as I can and then the shark takes off again, Then he's back, right beside the boat and, no exaggerating, this baby is at least 2m long. And I have four witnesses.
Alas, my line goes slack. The shark has snapped the line and become my "one that got away". I sense everyone's a little relieved as Phil explains he would have kept the shark only long enough for a photo and then released it.
Next we move closer to Onetangi where we land a few fish before it goes quiet again, move out a little and then it's time to head back.
Phil says it's been a hard day fishing but we have enough fish for dinner.
"And, as Graeme Sinclair says, we're out to have a good time, not to rape and pillage."
* Adventure Fishing Charters: Phone 09 3726023, $110 per person for approx 4 hours fishing.
* Fat Snapper Fishing Charters: Phone 09 372 8755, $100 per person. Both charters supply bait and tackle and will fillet and clean fish, if requested.
* Pop into Charlie Farley's, The Strand, Onetangi, phone 09 327 4106. You're a local as soon as you walk in the door. Named after Phil's father Farley. Perhaps you might even convince the chef to cook up your catch of the day! Take something warm to wear, hat, sunscreen and water. Trips leave Matiatia or Onetangi, weather-dependent, and can meet people off the Fullers ferries.