The 2021 Ngāi Takoto Ninety Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza got off to a promising start on Tuesday with 320 fish landed in near perfect conditions.
Local anglers bagged most of the prizes on day one with Richard Tepania, of Ahipara, taking out the $2000 prize for heaviest fish of the day.
Tepania's catch, 6.555kg, was one of just three fish over 6kg. Second place, worth $1000, went to Kaeo's Corey Williams.
Tepania now has to hope this year's fish stay relatively small to give him a chance of bagging the $30,000 overall prize when the competition ends on Saturday.
If he was nervous it wasn't showing.
''It's not a big fish by any means, but fingers crossed. I won't say no if they throw $30,000 at me.''
Tepania has fished every Snapper Bonanza and many of the Snapper Classics before that for the best part of 30 years. Tuesday was, however, his first time on stage with a winning fish.
This story was published before Wednesday's results were known.
Bonanza organisers Dave Collard and John Stewart are delighted with this year's crowd — all 1000 tickets sold out before Christmas — and the conditions on the beach so far.
After last year's disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Stewart said everyone was pleased just to be able to get together and fish.
''Last year we had to restrict prizegiving to 500 people [due to Covid restrictions] so we made a rule that you didn't have to be here to win the spot prizes. It was like a ghost town.''
For this year's contest they had reverted to the normal rule requiring anglers to be present to claim any of the 10 spot prizes drawn each day.
Another positive development was that Far North iwi Ngāi Takoto had just signed up for another two years' sponsorship.
That gave certainty and meant the organisers didn't have to go hunting for another naming rights sponsor.
Stewart said conditions on day one were near perfect with a ''small swell, bugger-all wind, murky water and overcast sky''.
''It was a very good day. We've had bigger but it was still a good, productive day.''
The swell was expected to increase, which could make conditions on the beach uncomfortable or even risky on Wednesday and Thursday.
Thursday, however, is a lay day and by Saturday calm seas are expected to return.
The Bonanza attracts anglers from around the country such as Damien Sinclair of Wairarapa.
He had fished at Ninety Mile Beach many times but this was his first time competing in the Bonanza.
''It's the challenge and the thrill of fishing off the Ninety. It's hard work but it's the epitome of surfcasting. This is pretty much the best competition you can win.''
Sinclair said the challenge was being able to read the beach, and get the line into the holes and beyond the bar. Bait presentation was also vital.
He was optimistic about getting a prize before the week was out but was hoping the sea would get a bit rougher.
''When it's calm anyone can fish.''
The start of the 11th Snapper Bonanza was clouded by the early morning death of a local angler near Hukatere.
The 59-year-old is thought to have suffered a medical event and could not be revived despite the efforts of Far North Surf Rescue, St John and fire brigade personnel.
A minute's silence was observed at the start of Tuesday's prizegiving.
Ngāi Takoto blessed the site and imposed a rāhui from Hukatere to a point 6km south. Anglers were asked not to fish in that area until Friday.
■ The day one winners were (1) Richard Tepania, Ahipara, 6.555kg; Corey Williams, Kaeo, 6.273kg; Stephen Heka, Kaitaia, 6.095kg; Raymond Cox, Ōpotiki, 5.766kg; Joseph Kemp, Kaitaia, 5.76kg. The average weight winner was Kane Wrigglesworth of Napier and the winning team was Spot X captained by Milton Arnold. In past years the overall winning fish has usually been around the 8kg mark. Last year's winner was Aucklander Grant Thompson with 8.285kg. The all-time record, 12.030kg, was set in 2012 by Darrin Maxwell of Te Puke.