Hammering on Heaven’s Door

Being a tradesman and a keen fisherman can be a complicated relationship. As a contracting carpenter, time is money. There are pros to this – every hour is dollars in my pocket; but cons follow close behind – days off fishing end up being expensive thanks to the loss of wages and the costly trip to the tackle store which always gets a bit out of hand.

This is admittedly an unhealthy mindset but a reality for many tradesmen with young families to support. Now throw this in the mix: a morning commute which involves watching the sun rise over the water, revealing that yet again it’s another perfectly glass day out on the Hauraki Gulf. You must learn swiftly to squash the thought of all the sea life about to erupt into a frenzy ready to smash whatever soft, hard or dead bait you toss into the water, so you avert your eyes (avoiding a nose to tail) and carry on driving – another win for the fish. 

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As it would happen, the company I work for took a job building a new architectural home on Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf – a 300m² home comprised of three pavilions in a truly magical private bay. The lucky few with no dependants would stay in an existing cottage onsite during the week in an old, quaint, cosy weatherboard house of two bedrooms no more than 100m from the waterfront. The walls are lined with memories of family time spent fishing and enjoying the beach. 

This new job provided the boss – who is also an avid fisherman – with the need to purchase a boat for getting himself to and from the island. This was, of course, something he showed little resistance to, so before you could blink an eye, a near new Surtees 4.85m was purchased with a 60hp Yamaha. The best thing about this purchase was that it was free for recreational purposes after knock-off. It wasn’t until spring that I finally got a chance to head to Kawau. I and one other were called upon to push the site along to keep the build schedule on track. Having just finished a build in Remuera, my morning commute no longer involved pulling up to a line of traffic but instead to the wharf – a very welcome change. 

It was spring so it was my obligation to point out the odd gannet about to make a dive. It felt like a treat working out on the island – hard work but being by the ocean and surrounded with bush lined hills all day does something to you. As nice as it was, a certain angst was rising in the fishermen among us; it maybe, just maybe had something to do with the hundreds of gannets diving consistently in the channel 200m offshore every day. But we were helpless and flat out with work so, once again, I would pull my gaze from the water and get back to it. 

One morning though, something happened. As my boss arrived at the wharf on the Surtees, I noticed a long line nestled in a rod holder along with hooks and traces on a rack. I looked at my boss and gave him a gentle head nod of approval – the man’s a genius.

A set line isn’t usually my go to when it comes to fishing. I originally fell in love with fishing for the sport using soft-plastics and came to enjoy fishing for the table shortly after. This was a great idea though. Taking a few fish and letting the resident islanders have some fresh snapper for smoko seemed like a good plan. The boss had keenly been studying the nav maps looking for a nice spot to set the line that would provide some regular fish. There was a channel that ran right past the bay between our island and a smaller island 500m from ours, and it also ran over a decent patch of foul and showed good sign with plenty of bait fish around. This proved to be a fine spot. A couple times a week or whenever the boys ran short on snapper, at least 3-5 snapper would be pulled in on the set line per drop. Most were a great eating size around 40cm with the odd fish between 5-10lb.

These would be filleted shortly after they made it to land and the two Brazilians in our crew would waste no time preparing them for smoko. The young apprentice had been barred from cooking duties for burning the garlic rolls more than once. 

Watching the two Brazilians prepare smoko was an experience best spent sitting down and out of the way. It was much like a dance but in the kitchen – and with periods of yelling which sounded tense but ended with laughing. After the show, the fish would roll out hot on a plate – snapper pan-fried in butter served with fresh lemon plucked out of the bedroom window. It was refreshing to see how much everyone enjoyed the fresh fish pulled merely a few hundred metres from the rustic old cottage in which it was prepared and cooked. I think about the fact that this is what lucky families holidaying in this bay have been enjoying for countless generations. I too feel privileged to have had a touch of fishing cross paths with my workday and to share in the magical little bay. 

Article by: Jonny Allison