Out of Auckland: Far North Kingfish – Part I
This is a late summer’s tale of one night, two swoffers, three rods and more emergency water stops than I can remember.
As I type this I can’t help but hear the line from “Waterloo”, the original Abba hit song: ‘How come I feel like I win when I lose?”
And then I think to change the title to “Lose,Lose:Win,Win”. So you may be getting the idea isn’t just a “Me and Joe went fishing” piece as the magazine editors call it. Although I did go fishing with my friend, fishing guide Craig Worthington.
It’s all about going to rock ‘n roll with the fishy beasties of the the Far North! The hard way: land based and preferably sight fished. This was accomplished in way that has greatly altered my fly fishing trajectory.
This was also the christening trip for my new camera outfit, a new Olympus OM-D E-M5 with a M.Zuiko 12-40 f2.8 Pro zoom lens. Easily the classiest bit of kit I’ve owned in the last ten years, and unlike most system cameras it is rated rain/splash-proof so I could take it with me wading and survive salty splashes and wind blown sand without fear.
The first location was a vast estuary with glistening white sand beach and crystal clear water. I stopped in my tracks at first sight: it was like walking onto a tropical flat to stalk bonefish or giant trevally. At least that what I imagine- have yet to do any foreign fly fishing. But the Kiwi reality was just as exciting: there were hoodlum kingfish in those sparkling shallows, big enough that Craig had brought along only 10 and 12 wt rods to match the anticipated quarry. This was based on his experience in previous visits where the kingfish had not treated his gear with respect.
Yeah, the photo above should look slightly familiar (Almost Famous) as Craig strode out ahead scanning the water with the ferocious intensity that is the hallmark of a kingfish obsessed swoffer. I glared into the water with my polaroids and saw a steady procession of pine tree needles and sea grass suspended in the brisk outgoing current.
A small boat anchored just off the beach got our attention as a potential FAD. Craig waded into the shallows, using his Redington Vapen 10 weight to put some casts close to the hull: no response. So we continued walking up the beach, with the current tugging and swirling around our legs as we waded deeper.
Next we had a shot at a swimming platform, but again the kings were not playing a predictable game.
The main current was surging along about 15-20 meters out and that was running over a rocky strip of reef that ran parallel to the shore. This was an ideal situation as it made a good ambush proposition for predators as the mullet would be concentrated between the reef and current on the one side and the shallows on the other. Meanwhile I followed behind, taking photos and enjoying the warm water, blue sky and joy of fly fishing in such pristine water. I was also working my casts, using a Sage 12 weight outfit, into the main current, striving to get as close to the reef as possible. A few minutes later Craig hunched over, pointing into the current a few meters down stream from him and about 10 meters above my position.
“Kings!” he explained succinctly. “Cast now!”
Frankly I couldn’t see anything remotely fishy and wondered if he had a touch too much sun already, but then three dark shapes – correction: three dark, about meter long, kingfishy shapes suddenly materialised only a short cast in front of me. Somehow I managed to get one shot in and did a fast stripping retrieve that was ignored. Then a second cast landed nicely in the middle of the group – I barely got one pull on the line before one shape lunged and hit the fly. I dont actually know if I did strike, I think the truth is that I merely held onto the line because the moment the fish felt the hook it lit the afterburners and ripped off on a 100 meter plus run over the reef. I cranked up the drag on the Sage to maximum and the fish plowed on regardless. But in what was really only about ten seconds after it all started,the line went slack … it was probably a 9-10 kilo fish, easily bigger than my seven kilo previous personal best from a few years back:
Now these two encounters are as different as chalk and cheese: the first fish was on a deeply sunk fly over a reef from a boat. It actually reefed me – and if it wasn’t for Craig’s experience in maneuvering the boat to pop the line off the snag I would never have landed it. It is still the biggest fish I have ever landed.
But … that memory just paled in comparison to wading on a sandy flat, throwing a fly to fish you could see, enticing a response and experiencing the blood rush of a rod wrenching kingfish express. Same species, both on the fly, but a completely different world in terms of fishing experience. It was a moment of piscatorial revelation: I’m not in Kansas any more.
Even with a large arbor reel,winding all that line back seemed to take eternity. Which let my heart rate settle down a bit as Craig waded over for the post fight analysis. He shook his head, “Kings do that sometimes – do a big run and you think they’re hooked securely – then it just drops off.” Just another one of the mysteries of angling. Perhaps it was Fate giving me a slap as I had said (sort of boasted, actually) that I had a 100 per cent success rate in landing every kingfish I had ever hooked on the fly: four landed from four hook ups. Even so, I consoled myself, winning four out of five against kingfish is still a good statistic.
What a beginning to the trip! Good sized fish, in clear shallow water and already a hookup within an hour of getting out of the van.