At the end of the Part I I (Far North Kingfish – Part I) I had hooked and lost a good sized kingfish across a shallow reef. Craig and I continued up the estuary but after a couple of hours without any further sightings our time had come to leave. We hopped into the van and headed north to Parengrenga Harbour: a name of mythical grandeur in the fishing realm in New Zealand. This would be my first visit and my thoughts were swirling with tales of big snapper, trevally and kingfish to be caught by fly on shallow flats.
The massive white silica dunes were impossible to miss from the road.
And then the vast expanse of flats hits you when you get down at water level … the scene looked like a semi abstract modern landscape painting.
A sandy beach that transitioned into a wide flat rock shelf that bordered a relatively shallow channel where the tide was funnelled along at fairly good rate. Again a perfect predator haunt. So it was stepping out with a handful of rods to get to the water.
We were using Rio Outbound lines with sinking tips and weighted flies to get down the water column in the moving water.
Easy to land from the flat ledge.
Meanwhile frequent schools of smallish kahawai roamed through and provided plenty of entertainment for me. There were lots of mini- bust ups and piper skipping in panic, but even with our bigger kingfish flies all we could hook were small kahawai.
Meanwhile the wind was slow picking up and any chances for sight fishing were effectively gone. The tide was rising and coming over the ledge and the current quickening in pace.
I was having a kahawai fest and learned that with a roly-poly retrieve you reef the line in quick smart, hook a fish,and without bothering to remove the rod from your armpit, just haul the madly cavorting fish all the way to your feet. No danger of a trout strike!
Somewhere after the twentieth fish or so I was working like a well oiled machine on another school of kahawai. Shoot the line out, pause to sink, rod tucked in and strip, strip, strip: wham!
Only this wasn’t no juvenile kahawai, and it only took another couple of seconds to realise this weren’t no kahawai either: a runaway green-backed hoodlum that felt every bit as weighty as the first one from the morning. Within seconds I was well into the backing and Craig came wading over and grabbed my camera to take some photos as the Sage 10 weight arched over as I cranked up the drag. This fish had well over a hundred meters out when it slowed and stopped. In that position it was over the other side of the channel and I didn’t know if there were rocks over there or not. But this time the hook held- and so did the fish – it was simply holding position facing up into the current. This was rather unexpected behavior, but Craig was all for taking advantage of this docility: “Reel it all back in – but don’t upset it!”
So I did. Slowly, steadily it came in over the next few minutes. Meanwhile the line was collecting every bit of seaweed going along the current and it was hanging like a disheveled clothesline.
I backed up from the edge of the rock ledge and Craig moved over and started plucking weed off at the rod tip. I got it back into the channel and when it was about 10 meters out it sensed trouble and buzzed off again, at a slower rate, and sulked again. This pattern repeated a couple more times, so that after about 15 minutes we had out first sighting of a nice big yellow tail. I was handling it with a bit more authority now, confident that it was definitely tired and that the tackle was equal to stepping up the pressure. It thrashed a bit as it neared the rock ledge but thanks to the rising tide the water was over knee deep and enough to swim it in to beach it. But I keep wading back and got it safely about 3-4 meters past the edge. Craig was wading quietly behind it to help shepherd it up into the shallows. I was already mentally planning the grip and grin shots.
Then it happened -again: the hooked pulled out and the fly catapulted into the air. Time froze. I stood there gob smacked, speechless. Craig didn’t see what had happened but looked up at me and noticed the rod was now straight up with a loose line waving in the breeze. He clicked and made a grab for the fish’s tail as it too had not reacted to its hook-less freedom. But within a split second as Craig reached down his hand closed on empty water as the fish scythed its way past him, swirling back into the sanctuary of the channel depths. It was a decent fish, easily bigger than my 7 kilo best. Craig put it at 9 or 10 kilos.
We saw out the evening as the tide continued to swell, the sky warm and red as sunset coloured the western horizon. As for me, sometimes you know that your aren’t going to get another one that day.
We headed off and spent the night at a camp ground, tired enough that even sleeping in a van was no obstacle to falling alseep in pretty quick time.
The next morning up before dawn and back to the same spot.
Parengarenga was beautiful at sunrise …
A dozen or so small kahawai obliged to my fly and I even managed to foul hook four piper. But no hoodlums crashed the party. Even a berley trail Craig engineered attracted only dozens of small kahawai and a few juvenile trevally. The kingfish mojo of yesterday was gone – you could feel it.
We headed south and stopped at a wharf in Mangonui where Craig tried for kingfish with a deep, slow presentation.
However no response. Around this point the van started misbehaving – it was losing water from the radiator and threatening to meltdown every ten or fifteen minutes. We lost count of the number of times we stopped on that drive back – filling up every bottle we had at every possible water source. Craig even dashed down the road and across a paddock to fill up bottles in a cattle trough. The problem was I had a bus to catch back to Auckland from Kerikeri and Craig was absolutely determined that come hell or lack of water was not going to stop us making that rendezvous.
And miraculously we did – with ten minutes to spare.
Thus ended the trip. Two fish hooked and lost, but my fishing future was totally changed. Kingfish were no longer something that was like waiting to win lotto. The switch had flicked on in my mind. It was now real: I could plan to pursue them and even hook them – and hopefully, with some angler’s luck, even land one or two. It was a quiet but deep revelation: Kingfish on the fly and land based is a low percentage game even compared to saltwater fly in general, but when you succeed, or even lose, the glow of achievement is with you every time you think back on those special encounters.
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.
This is as close as I’ve got yet to the front cover of a magazine with a photograph – my shot of Craig Worthington stalking kingfish is the contents page background picture in the April edition of NZ Fishing News magazine. Just a few pages more and I’ll get there!