The competition gets pretty fierce when a group of 16 work associates board a charter vessel for a day of snapper fishing on the Hauraki Gulf. And when that boat is the SeaHawk, out of Westhaven, expectations are always high because skipper Lenny Rameka always seems to know where the fish can be found.
And the fishing has been good this spring — far better than last year, which saw average weather and average fishing through spring and summer. Everybody is talking about the great fishing, from off Raglan to the Bay of Plenty. The Far North is also firing, and in the Gulf in Auckland, the boats are returning with fish boxes bulging, including large snapper and plenty of kingfish.
A big factor is the prolific schools of pilchards and anchovies in the Gulf, which support everything from kahawai and kingfish in midwater to snapper and john dory closer to the bottom, while dolphins, gannets and whales usually join the feast.
Captain Lenny points the bow towards Kawau, and after passing through the Tiri Channel, he looks for the indicators. While the deckhand peers through his binoculars, Lenny studies the sea floor which slides past on the screen of the depth sounder.
A couple of single gannets attract a mention, but it is not until a number of birds are heading in the same direction or just sitting on the water that the avian fish markers are taken seriously. But not today.
Bottom sign is scarce, so the skipper asks: "Left or right?" A left heading would take the vessel towards the islands south of Kawau and the opposite would deliver deeper water. "Right," says a voice. So he pushes a button and the automatic pilot swings the bow around and the depth indicator rolls over, passing 40 metres. After 10 minutes of searching, the telltale marks start crawling across the base of the screen. Some are solid blobs, some sharp peaks and some like Christmas trees rising up. Finally, after circling round, he is satisfied and releases the anchor.
Hooks are baited and rods are ready, and some keen types drop their sinkers and baits over the side.
"Wait till the boat settles!" shouts the skipper. It takes a few minutes for the anchor to do its work and the boat swings gently in the current. There is no breeze. It is one of those rare early summer days when the water is like molten glass, oily and slick.
With 16 rods lining the sides and across the stern, the sinkers must go straight down, or the resulting tangles will shorten tempers.
But the cubes of pilchard leaking blood and stomach juices soon do their work and rods start bending.
The first nice snapper goes into the slurry in the giant chilly bin and washes around in the mix of salt ice and seawater. Others join it. Rods bend and shouts mix with yells as the fish get bigger.
"Let's have a contest for the longest!" says one keen new snapper expert. A fish goes on to the measure which is unravelled across the bin: "Fifty four!"
Not bad. Then Dan struggles as his rod bends over and a silver shadow morphes into a red and gold and silver shape. "Get the net!" is the call, and as deckie Danny lifts the fish, Dan is ecstatic: "That's the biggest snapper I've ever caught!"
On the tape, it registers 58cm. Another one comes in at 60cm, followed by a 62.
Then Dan is on again, with another good fish that is giving him a huge struggle. The net scoops again and the smiles are even wider. It is 66cm. Surely that can't be topped.
Meanwhile, the girls have been busy following instructions from the crew as they haul on the rod, pulling in fish after fish.
Then Lenny hands a rod to Paige Gemmell and says: "Hold that." The rod buckles and Paige nearly buckles also.
"Everybody pull up your lines!" shouts the captain. That is a sign of a serious fish on the other end of Paige's line. For if it swims under the boat or heads up one side, other lines will be crossed and the resulting tangle will spell trouble.
And this fish goes where it wants to go. Paige can't stop it. The rod twists and she tries to force the handle to turn. The pressure is enormous.
She gets advice from all quarters. "Don't try and haul on the rod, just lift it a few centimetres and get a quarter turn on the reel." Eventually the technique starts to work and she gains line. It is tough work, but finally a long yellow and silver torpedo glints below the boat, and when it breaks the surface, the shouts are deafening. A huge kingfish, which Danny lifts on the gaff and the battle is over. The celebrations start. And the 66cm snapper looks like a baby.
The upper reaches of tributary streams such as the Ngongotaha Stream and Tongariro River open for fly fishing today, and it is always some of the best fishing of the year. While many of the trout in these waters will have spawned during the winter and will be making their way downstream back to the lake to recover, there will also be some fresh-run, late spawners and some resident fish.
The Ngongotaha, in particular, always holds some huge brown trout and numbers of these fish will grow as more enter the stream to escape warm conditions in the shallow margins of Lake Rotorua as summer kicks is. Back country fly fishing has also taken off in the warm conditions, with hatches of beetles and mayflies common.
Tip of the Week
Kingfish are attracted to the activity as snapper are pulled in and can be easily targeted by catching a yellowtail and dropping it back down with a hook through its nose. The small bait fish are often hooked on snapper baits, but can be easily caught by dropping a sabiki rig sweetened with scraps of bait on the small flies. But don't drop this to the bottom or you will hook small snapper and sometimes large ones which test the tackle.
Bite times are 11.35am tomorrow and 12.05am and 12.35pm on Sunday. More fishing action can be found at GTTackle.co.nz.