A general rule of thumb can be applied to all outdoor activities: the more you distance yourself from places that are easily accessible, the more magic you are likely to discover. It was something we kept front-of-mind when we were planning this trip – a hard-core fishing and diving adventure in the Far North of NZ – with our motley crew of mates.

It was early January when me (Gabe), Thomo, and Bene got a “good enough” three-day window to head north. As planned, we packed the car full of kit and started the long commute to where we would eventually meet the other fellas involved in the mission. Part-time resident Jack Priddy and local lad Josh Peterson provided the boat, as well as the local knowledge and experience we’d need to tackle this classic piece of Kiwi coastline.

Upon our arrival, Jack and Josh already had the boat in the water, caught some livies, and pretty much done everything else that needed to happen before leaving. All we had to do was put our absurd amount of kit in the boat and head to the campsite.

Our plan for the first evening was to have a hard-core snapper straylining session. And after a 40-minute blast, we quickly set up camp, which for us involved two well-set-up tents, and for Jack and Josh involved a single picnic blanket lying at an obtuse angle. We then headed to Josh’s Spot X. Jack and Josh once again did us a great service by catching a bin load of mullet to be used as bait. Now, for the average Kiwi fisho, a whole pilchard is often considered a large bait, however, for these fellas, three-quarters of a 2kg mullet seemed like a perfectly normal thing to throw out. We anchored up, set a berley and began rigging the rods.

Early on in the session, we were once again reminded of our rule of thumb: we had put in the effort to push remote, and now the fishing was shithot. The lads began cranking into the pannies. Countless four-to-five-pound snapper were brought onboard and swam back healthy as ever. We kept only the fish that had either swallowed the hook or were in bad condition. These fish were destined to fuel us for the following days. Unfortunately, not long after the start of the session, both Thomo and Bene came down with heavy-duty sea sickness. We told the fellas to hold out for as long as they could, but after 45 minutes it just felt like torture watching them release their bowels every 10 minutes or so. During that 45-minute period, we managed to land some slightly larger snaps, with me, Jack, and Josh all securing a couple of snaps in the 10-15lb range. Once we released the unwell back onto shore, we went for a quick dive to see what was going on below the surface. After a full night’s sleep, those of us sleeping in tents were up at around 5:30am, charged and ready to go. However, after a quick yarn with Jack and Josh it quickly became apparent that they did not have the same refreshing experience. The fellas had a scattered two hours of sleep, with a “quick, get the boat off the rocks!” mission at 4am – some added mayhem to the misery.

6 o’clock rolled around, and we were off again. We were back to a similar spot to repeat last night’s affairs. Fortunately, this time, we had the swell and wind on our side. Berley in the water, frantic rigging, then anticipation.

Thomo and Bene were back in action for this session – their bowels thankfully not betraying them any further. Both fellas cracked into the session well, landing some beauty pannies. During this session, Bene became somewhat addicted to the challenge of landing a large snapper of very light soft plastic gear.

Jack, Josh, and I were back into the cycle of straylining: bait up, cast, get stripped – repeat. Over the course of this session there were some absurd baits getting thrown out; it was clear to see these fellas backed the ‘big baits catch big fish’ philosophy. After becoming lost in the process, I began unconsciously threading my single 7/0 circle hook through a fresh kahawai tail section. This bait was flicked out to the same spot as many had been before and seemed destined for the same fate. But this time was different. Something big picked it up and ran with it like no other. It was slow, but you could feel the power and dominance thrumming through the braid. I closed the bail hoping it would stick. Pressure was applied, and the circle hook did its job exactly as it was supposed. I was connected to what I thought was a bloody good fish but not necessarily a ‘giant’. As the fight progressed, the fish continued to pull some crazy runs and left us wondering if maybe he was a monster. Josh was the one to call it early. Quote: “It’s a big one!” When we finally got it to the boat and into the net, we were all reminded of why we partake in this sport: pure froth and a high like no other. The beast smoked my PB by a fair few pounds, and to top it off, he swam back healthy as ever.

Time to crack into a few more. As we continued to land pannies we were challenged by hearty runs, and a few solid fish were lost. We all felt as if another big one had to come soon. Josh, once again, was rigging up threequarters of a large mullet, clearly with one goal in mind.

Finally, he had a run that seemed a little more willing. His bait runner clicked over, and the mono came to full stretch… boom! He was into a goody. After pulling a decent amount of string, the momentum quickly shifted back in Josh’s favour, and he had him at the boat in only a handful of minutes. It was another beauty snap, floating around the 18-pound mark. This fish marked the wrap-up of the session.

We moved back to base camp and refuelled ourselves before heading out and targeting kings on the outgoing tide. Unfortunately, after slow trolling in some decent swell, we had two very seasick fishos and not even one curious kingie encounter. Me, Jack, and Josh dropped the other two fellas back at camp and planned to head back out and throw everything we had at the kings. We bashed out to a couple of pins and dropped a few high-speed jigs down. A couple of rat kingies and a ballsy scorpion fish was all that we could entice to the boat. At this point, all hope was lost on the kingie front, so we thought we’d try dropping on a bit of foul in about 60 metres. My arms were pretty worn down from the high speeding, so the idea of putting on a slow jig and having a seat was much more inviting. The slow jig was only down for 30 seconds or so before it got smoked. My first thought was, holy hell, I’ve hooked another monster snap. However, long runs and a consistently pulsing rod tip made us think otherwise. After another five-or-so minutes of little line gain, we confirmed our suspicions –this had to be a king. As the fish moved up the water column, it began to come in much easier. We then got it to the boat and made the call it was one for the smoker.

The following evening and morning were filled with a couple of dives, some more straylining, and seeing if we could entice some topwater kingie action. Josh managed to shoot a very respectable snapper; we landed another handful of pannies; and had a couple of close calls on the topwater front.

Over the three days, we piled action into every available moment and were rewarded for the effort. These three days had guaranteed our return to the Far North. We’d like to say a huge thanks to Jack and Josh for taking us out and showing us what’s up there. We’re bloody excited to get back and see if we can break a few more PBs!