I had two friends from overseas visiting for a so-called “fishing trip,” with high hopes of getting into a few decent New Zealand species. Although there had been big promises made, the trip had been out of reach thanks to La Niña. The boys’ trip was coming to an end and the chances of getting a weather window were dwindling. There was a single afternoon and morning gap mid-week that showed itself up North, so we packed the wagon and boosted up to Northland hoping the weatherman was right for once and that the water was clean.

On our late afternoon arrival, we were greeted with crystal clear water and a light offshore breeze. We were straight into our suits and in the water, swimming around the point as the sun was dipping behind the hill to try and rustle up a feed.

Once around the point, my first drop landed me straight on a cray crack and after a quick grapple, I got an inhabitant to the surface minus a few legs. I had seen a snapper swim in the crack as I swam out, so I did another quick dive with the gun to see if it had hung around; sure enough there it was with a cray leg halfway down its throat. It was so involved in feasting that it didn’t see me coming and for this, it was treated to a dessert of spring steel to digest as well. Dinner sorted!

 

By now it was already almost dark, so we swam for the beach. Our campsite was strategically placed about 20m away from the high tide mark in one of the most picturesque bays on Northland’s east coast. This place is my favourite campsite in the country and has access to incredible diving literally on your doorstep. We got straight into planning the next day’s strategy, whilst sipping a few cold ones and cooking a crayfish and snapper pasta on the COBB Grill.

The next morning, we had a six-hour gap before the wind picked up to get the boys a snapper and a kingfish. We decided to launch our small, borrowed boat and try a few pinnacles for kingies first. There wasn’t much current, so we all swam in different directions. My intention was to find the bait and call the boys over to it. As luck would have it, on my first dive on a reasonable-looking little drop-off, a solid kingfish swam past. Instinct kicked in and I nailed it with a spine shot that stopped it in its tracks – we now had a fish on the boat but it didn’t get us any closer to succeeding on our mission for the lads.

We went to another pinnacle which was a bit out of the way, but it paid off with clear water, good current, and lots of skittish-looking bait. The first fish seen and missed was a boarfish on the sand at 20m. Diving off the deep edge paid off and it wasn’t long before there was hooting and shouting. I swam over to see a kingfish giving a good tussle on one of my mate’s reelguns. The shot wasn’t great and the fish had tangled itself in some kelp so a second shot was employed to secure it. Another kingfish made its way into the bin shortly after that.

By this stage, the southeasterly was pumping. Our wooden boat didn’t have much clearance and being a bit further than a mere swim from the beach, we decided to pull the pin before we got swamped. We had not spent any time looking for snapper on this pinnacle, but I had seen a really solid one lurking just in vision which came to have a look at one of the struggling fish, so I was hopeful there were more good ones around.

Back at camp we dealt to the fish and packed the fillets on ice. The wind was cranking but after the story of the big one seen, we decided to try a bit of snapper fishing tucked behind the lee of an inshore island. It was just after lunch and expectations were pretty low. This spot is as unassuming as it gets – a small bit of structure surrounded by sand, about 500m from land with minimal bait. I had grabbed a few crays on it before but didn’t think it would hold many snapper. We didn’t have much in the way of options available so we dropped the pick on the edge in 12m and launched a burley pot with all the kingfish offcuts over the side. The only bait we had were repurposed bits off the recently filleted kingfish belly.

We chipped away at a few average fish around 35cm and then as if a switch had been flicked we started getting hit by bomber snapper. Now keeping in mind our vessel was one wrong move away from going under, all of a sudden we were on with three good fish running around each other on ultra-light tackle that we had been using for freshwater fishing. Chaos ensued and somehow we landed all three fish. The biggest got chucked back and then we took turns to drop a chunk of kingfish belly one at a time. As the bait hit the bottom the reel would peel off with a fish – it was incredible, shot for shot just getting destroyed by big snapper. We estimated the biggest to be around 20 pounds and there were none smaller than 10 pounds. We even had a kingie on the light tackle, but it broke off at the boat as we didn’t have a gaff or net. The fish were still boiling when we left and I can only imagine how many big snapper must have been vortexing that little piece of reef. The biggest were left to fight another day but we had a good feed and did the 500m run back to camp with water splashing over the side and big smiles.

The guys from overseas were so impressed at how abundant the fishery in NZ is. It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to be able to harvest our own wild food in this environment. It seems 24 hours in Northland is all you need for a fruitful session when you are in the right place at the right time!

We still had a few days up our sleeves and with the weather being so heinous we headed to the bush where the boys each managed to tick off their first deer. They got what they came for and left with backpacks of vac-sealed fallow back straps and salami, as well as a good scar from getting scoped by the back end of the rifle… but that’s another story!