"If we put strips of fresh kahawai on some of the hooks we should get bigger snapper on the next set," said Rowan Lowry as he expertly sliced a fillet from the side of the silver and green fish and then ran the blade under the skin from one end to the other and cut the flesh into strips about 15cm long.
He then threaded a small longline hook through one end of each strip so it dangled freely, and laid the traces on the sand. His mate, Leon Vaudrey, carried the motorised torpedo out into the waves breaking along the beach and pushed it out. The sleek orange machine powered out through the white water, its bright flag waving in the breeze, and crashed into the next wave. It shuddered, righted itself and motored into the next wave. The heavy line was pulled off the spool on the winch sitting on the tailgate of the ute and, as it passed Lowry, he clipped each trace to the line and the baits were dragged into the sea.
The vehicles were parked on the beach at the top end of Muriwai, and the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour could be seen clearly in the distance. "We got a 13-pounder here last week," said Vaudrey. This was Friday the 13th, a week ago, and you do not expect to catch a lot of snapper midwinter but, when baits are pulled 1300m out into the ocean, there are obviously some fish in the zone. "That snapper was full of big, crushed shellfish so they must be feeding on a bank out there," he added.
But you do expect to catch gurnard, the fillets of which are regarded as the best eating by many seafood aficionados.
Once the line has been set it is a question of waiting, just like all fishing. But this approach is a bit like pulling a net in through the surf. It is all about the anticipation.
What will be on the hooks? Anything?
These guys are experienced torpedo fishermen, and they spend a lot of time demonstrating the GT Kontiki which has a special innovation that overcomes the biggest problem when setting long-lines through the surf - being knocked off course by waves and travelling along the beach instead of going out to sea. This kontiki incorporates GPS technology and an autopilot, so it is self-correcting when waves push it around.
When fishing on the west coast the line is left out for no more than about 40 minutes as hooked fish attract sharks, which will tear them from the hooks and may become tangled in the main line. If that is severed the expensive kontiki is lost.
So Lowry started the motor on the winch and the spool pulled in line. It took some time before the orange machine and its flag neared the beach, then the first traces appeared through the shallows. The first couple of hooks were bare, the bait stripped, then, just as on the previous set, a kahawai came splashing through the waves. Lowry stopped the winch with the small remote slung around his neck, slipped the hook from the fish's lips and put it back in the water. "Don't need anymore kahawai," he said.
"Snapper!" cried Vaudrey as there was another silver flash in the green water. The gleaming 2kg snapper slid on to the beach, followed by another, then another. A bright orange gurnard was next, then another snapper. More gurnard followed. There were whoops of delight as the boys unclipped the traces and dropped the fish into the bin of ice and seawater. The final tally was 16 fish - one kahawai, four gurnard and 11 snapper. With 10 fish from the first set, that was plenty for four people to take home.
The wind had switched around to the northeast after a week of cold southerlies.
"Fish don't like that cold wind," said Lowry. It is the same with trout in lakes or rivers. But with the change in the weather came the call to meet for coffee in Kumeu before driving up the beach on the dropping tide, three hours before dead low.
The fishing seems to work best on the outgoing tide, leaving plenty of time for the trip back down the beach before the incoming tide blocks the road. And it is a road, with 50km/h road signs reminders of the rules.
The rusted skeletons of vehicles sticking out of the sand are grim testament to how quickly a vehicle decomposes in the salt and is buried in a sandy grave by successive tides. It is not a coast to be taken lightly but, with the right gear and experience, it can yield a bin of fish.