After spending time fishing their home waters, most keen anglers get the itch to chase larger fish in more remote locations. And in New Zealand, the fish don’t get much bigger, nor the location more remote, than the Three Kings Islands. Located 30nm to the northwest of Cape Reinga, the archipelago was given its European name by Abel Tasman who anchored here in search of fresh water. The series of rocky islands and outcrops are so rugged that the two ‘anchorages’ are merely indentations along the steep, boulder-laden shoreline, and are still exposed to a myriad of oceanic swells and currents. A few hardy souls lived on the islands in pre-European times. Anecdotally they were genuine giants – no doubt thriving on a diet rich in Omega 3!

My first trips to the Three Kings were as a deckhand on the famous charter boat Pursuit. I had a ball simply witnessing the scenery and fishing action, but I’ve been lucky enough to return to the islands a few times since as an angler on our own boat. I’m far from an expert on the area but can give you a run-down on how to get there, what species to target and some general fishing options.

The best option for those wishing to fish the Three Kings is to book a trip on one of the liveaboard charter boats that work the area between summer and the end of autumn every year. These boats comfortably cater for around six anglers, with the standard trip being five days long. Most trips start from Mangonui or Whangaroa harbours, where the boat is loaded up in the evening and anglers are expected to catch fresh mackerel for livebait on the first night while berthed at the wharf. The boat will depart in the morning, taking one of two paths; either head up the coast and make a beeline for the Three Kings, where you will arrive late in the evening, or do some afternoon kingfish or snapper fishing and stay the night on the northern coast at either North Cape, Tom Bowling Bay or Spirits Bay. There is a fair amount of ‘downtime’ during the transit, but the journey includes some of the best gamefishing areas on the northeast coast and the lures are always out the back.

Your other option is a private boat. Being a long way from the nearest port and without cell phone coverage, I’d recommend being very well prepared and having a large enough boat to handle the conditions. Even with a good high-pressure system forecast, it’s not unusual to experience 20-knot winds, strong currents and big swells from multiple directions. Make sure to log your trip and check-in twice a day with Far North Radio – Annette and the crew run a brilliant service for both commercial and recreational vessels in the area.

Once at the islands, it’s likely you’ll stay in Northwest Bay or Southeast Bay on the main island for the night – dependent on wind and swell conditions. Depending on the bait supply, you’ll either head straight out to the fishing grounds or throw out some berley close to the islands to catch fresh livebait in the form of koheru and small trevally. Big arrow squid can be caught overnight at the anchorages. Skewer-type squid jigs with a freshly impaled dead mackerel are far more effective than your standard egi jigs. The task of catching bait is often interrupted by big kingfish cruising through the clear water underneath! Given the clarity of water and abundance of fish life, diving is superb around the islands but not for the faint-hearted, with raging currents and big sharks present.

Most boats head away from the islands each day to fish the famous and productive King and Middlesex Banks. Situated where the South Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea converge, these banks are surrounded by a range of deep trenches and seamounts. The result is huge upwellings and strong currents that hold an abundance of baitfish and squid, in turn attracting striped marlin, blue marlin, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, huge kingfish, hapuku, bass and bluenose. Even black marlin, big eye tuna and bluefin tuna show up frequently enough to be considered a realistic prospect on the right day.

Trolling lures over the banks and livebaiting at likely spots with koheru or skipjack tuna produce many marlin and big tuna each season, while dropping livebaits, jigs or ‘puka rigs over the countless reefs and rises typically produce big kingfish, hapuku and bass. Kingfish around 30-40kg and bass over 50kg are not uncommon, so it pays to fish heavy gear to avoid heartbreak!

Another option is to spend time prospecting around the shoreline of the islands themselves. Huge hump-headed trevally are easily spotted and can be targeted with soft-baits or cut-baits. Slow-trolling or drift fishing with livebaits can see some great kingie action with fish averaging around the 15-20kg mark – and bigger fish are often lost in the shallow terrain. As a bonus, it’s not unusual to bycatch a big hapuku close to the cliffs. Stickbaiting for kings is an exciting prospect around the points and reefs, although generally less productive than livebaiting.

The Three Kings is a special place, so I must warn you – once you’ve been, all you’ll want to do is go straight back for more.

Article by: Nick Jones