By Jodi Bryant
Kurt Nash loads his push bike with rods and bait bucket and at 4am, begins the tedious one-hour juggling journey of navigating it from Coopers Beach to the Mangonui wharf in the dark.
By sunrise, he has caught several kingfish, snapper, trevally, kahawai, John Dory and gurnard and it's not long before he has accrued quite the gathering of onlookers.
Kurt's is a familiar figure at the Mangonui wharf, having become something of a local legend with his extraordinary catches and endless fishing knowledge beyond his years. Many of the locals, including the commercial fisherman, whose vessels are moored at the jetty, know him by name as he carves out a career in an industry he has been passionate about for as long as he can remember.
Mum Adeline Knight remembers her oldest son 'fishing' as a toddler with plastic reels before taking himself eeling in the nearby creek, aged four.
"I can't remember a time when Kurt wasn't into fishing. I just have memories of his toddler years, taking him to Mill Bay sprat fishing and he didn't want to leave. We would stay for hours and hours."
Remembers Kurt: "The time that really got me inspired was when we went down with the babysitter one day, we were just chilling out sitting at the wharf watching. I looked over the edge and saw a John Dory so I showed the local fisherman. Then he came over and speared the John Dory and a sprat, kindly handing it to me, so I came home and gave it to Rocky my cat. Rocky's done well out of me over the years," he adds.
And so have his family, with Kurt, 15, keeping them well-supplied with kaimoana.
By age seven, the hunter-gatherer was self-sufficient in carrying out the full procedure of baiting, casting, hooking and reeling and, by ten, he could see it all the way through to the frying pan, having learnt to fillet.
"I was smoking kahawai on the smoker too," says Kurt, who recently made his first Thai green curry with fresh kingfish.
Kurt's dad, grandparents and aunty are also keen fishers – his Aunty PK often swings by with her boat to pick up her nephew and the two have spent endless hours bonding over their shared hobby.
"I've learnt a lot from Aunty PK and from being at the wharf and watching videos. I've also learnt a lot off dad but now I'm starting to teach dad!" Kurt grins.
They often enter fishing competitions together and, last year, Kurt and his dad Luke won the two-day fishing competition at Whangaroa which he is hoping to repeat this year.
But despite having the option of fishing by boat, Kurt prefers the wharf.
"I prefer wharf fishing to a boat – it's a different style. Some people say they catch nothing and we go down and catch lots. Every day's a different fishery, you've just got to know how to fish it.
"I fish a lot for kingis there and some days they've been eating the bait off the bottom, sometimes the surface, some take dead bait, sometimes they're eating it alive. You have to pretty much read them and entice the bite I guess. Some days it's just different to others."
Kurt recons he has clocked up thousands of hours at the wharf, some days whiling away 13 hours at his happy place.
"It's the thrill of not knowing what you're going to catch next and the excitement when you do hook it," he explains.
Most of Kurt's memorable catches were off the wharf, including a hammerhead shark and, more recently, a bronze whaler, estimated at up to 200kg.
"It took an hour and a half to reel in," he recalls. "And people from the Mangonui fish shop were coming out to watch. When I got it up, people clapped.
"Mangonui means 'big shark' and there's a lot around, especially this time of the year."
In addition to sharks, there are many kingfish around as, according to locals, this was the location young kingfish were once released which now return every year to breed and feed. Kurt has caught his second biggest kingfish – 17kg – off the wharf.
But some of his milestone catches have taken place off the rocks in surrounding areas, including sharks and his biggest snapper – a 20-pounder - at Coopers Beach.
Often at his side and equally addicted to fishing, is good school friend and fishing buddy from way back Reef O'Donnell. The two, who can often be found charging up and down the pier with a large fish in tow and scaling the wharf ladder and grabbing fish by the gills, have formed an Instagram page called Far North Kings to showcase their catches and adventures.
"This season has been a bit slow for kingfish, usually they run in the summer months, but, a typical day we would land about six kingis – our best is 13 large kingfish. Some days we catch an octopus or a pink mau mau.
"In the summer there's often people – locals and tourists – watching that get quite excited and inspired."
Adeline, who has proudly supported her son's passion, verifies: "If you ask any of the locals, they will know these boys. They are renowned for being excellent fisherman and helpers of other novice anglers at the wharf. Also, if the other novice locals or tourists haven't caught a fish that day, these boys quite often share their catch so no one goes home empty-handed.
"They love to catch fish all day, starting at 4am and, as soon as they've caught the first fish, they're off to the fish 'n' chip shop to get it cooked for lunch. This keeps them going till late in the afternoon while they wait for the tide to change as the only time to fish at the Mangonui wharf is at high tide."
Adeline doesn't doubt Kurt's dedication to fulfilling his dream of owning a large scale charter fishing business; he already has his first boat and is saving for a truck to tow it once he is old enough to gain his driver's licence. At 13, Kurt was carrying out work experience at Coopers Beach Sports & Tackle and now works a summer part-time permanent position at Reel Rods Taipa.
"It's good working at the tackle shop talking to new people that come through and keeping up with the local fishing forecast, so I am learning too," he says.
"I want to eventually get my skipper's licence and do something around bigger scale charter fishing.
"I've got a couple of Spot-x's, out there I might share one day."
But, for now, he's perfectly content as-is, where-is; a boy with his rod standing at the end of the pier surrounded by well-familiar marine life.
If you would like to sponsor Far North Kings, please email Kurt at: email@example.com