You would think that growing up in an inland timber town would limit your opportunities to go fishing, but that was far from the case for Graham ‘Boulder’ McKenzie, as NZFN Managing Editor Grant Dixon discovered…

Growing up in Tokoroa was not a handicap for mad-keen angler Graham McKenzie, who tagged along with his dad fishing local lakes and rivers, as well as hunting in the forestry that surrounded the town.

His late father Don was a foreman at the local mill and this gave him forest access privileges few enjoyed, so pig and deer was regular table fare in the McKenzie household.

For most of his formative years, trolling for trout on lakes Taupo and Whakamaru made up Graham’s fishing fix until summer rolled round and the family headed to Te Kaha for their annual saltwater pilgrimage.

For three weeks, the McKenzies camped near the water at Schoolhouse Bay, on a site McKenzie family members still occupy.
“The daily routine was a simple one,” Graham recalls.
“You would get up, have a quick breakfast and then head out and clear the cray pots before travelling a little wider to the snapper grounds where we would always do well. On our return to camp the catch was shared around with anyone who wanted a feed.
“Mum would cook us up fresh fish and we would have an afternoon snooze before heading back out to the cray pots to rebait them with the snapper frames and perhaps have a dive. A quick wash in the nearby stream and those old enough would head to the pub for a cold beer followed by dinner. This would be repeated daily until the weather
eventually intervened.”

Graham says it was on these Te Kaha excursions he developed an appreciation for saltwater fishing. The fishing was done out of a 12-foot (3.6m) ply dinghy powered by a 4.5hp Seagull outboard.

This shortbill spearfish completed a billfish ‘slam’ for Graham that included a sailfish, blue, black and striped marlin, and a swordfish. Photo: Bryan Toney
This shortbill spearfish completed a billfish ‘slam’ for Graham that included a sailfish, blue, black and striped marlin, and a swordfish.
Photo: Bryan Toney

“It wasn’t a big boat, but man, did we catch some fish!’
His dad had another influence on young Graham’s life, and that was an introduction to timber.

“I went to work with Dad whenever I could and learnt a lot about timber. The mill was also where I was first introduced to ‘tax’.”

Graham was employed after school filleting timber on contract where he earned the princely sum of two shillings and sixpence (2/6).

“The contract actually paid 12/6 a packet and when
I asked Dad about the ‘missing’ 10 bob (10/0) he told me ‘that’s tax son, and the sooner you learn about it the better!’”

Forestry Work
On leaving school Graham spent a year in the Forestry Service as a cadet, but an altercation with a tutor resulted in a parting of the ways. Graham went back to Tokoroa where he found forestry employment, which he enjoyed.
This eventually led to work on Matakana Island, which was accessed by a barge each day. In a roundabout way, it re-introduced Graham to sea fishing. The barge skippers worked at the weekends on several of the charter boats, including the Nancy Belle and Raetihi, and Graham was taken on as crew.

Selling Timber
Getting to go to Mayor Island was a real bonus that came out of his logging association.
Eventually returning to Tokoroa, Graham’s knowledge of timber and milling saw him offered the position of manager at the Taupo Totara Timber Company’s local branch. The TTT, as it was referred to, was the forerunner of the Benchmark brand.
Looking for a little more adventure, Graham was offered a job in Papua New Guinea, so he packed up his family and headed into the Pacific. It was not to be to his or his family’s liking, so he returned to New Zealand, taking up a position with TTT as one of its Whangarei branch managers.

“Marsden Cove Refinery was just getting going and there was great business to be had. We sold them drill bits 30,000 at a time; files were ordered in lots of 144 dozen (1728); three- and six-metre ladders in 200 lots each; and coir rope, used to lash off the scaffolding, by the truckload.
“I couldn’t imagine where it was going, my job was to simply fill the orders!” laughed Graham.

The opportunity came for Graham to buy into two Independent Timber Merchants (ITM)stores, the bigger of the two situated at Onehunga.

In the end, Graham ended up with an interest in seven ITM stores scattered throughout the north, including Redwoods, Wellsford, Maungaturoto, Mangawhai, Opua Estate and Kerikeri.

“One day a man from Carters came along and offered us a cheque that would mean I could retire and go fishing, so we took it. To be honest, I had been thinking about getting out of the game for a little while.
“While I enjoyed the industry, I was becoming frustrated with the health and safety issues, product liabilities and the like, so the opportunity was timely,” he explained.

It was during his time with ITM that Graham helped facilitate the company’s alignment with Matt Watson and what was to become The ITM Fishing Show.
“Matt and the association with the programme has been great for lifting ITM’s profile,” says Graham.

Boulder Guiding
Since retiring nine years ago, Graham has been able to work on his ‘bucket list’.

He has established Boulder Guiding and is an agent for Jigging Master and Jig Star top-end jig-fishing tackle. Graham arranges charter trips for a regular clientele, using only the best operators.

In recent years Graham has fished throughout the world, often with Tony and Bea Orton (Offshore Adventures).
Central American destinations such as Mexico and Costa Rica are among his favourites and he recently completed a personal ‘billfish slam’: blue, black and striped marlin, a shortbill spearfish, broadbill and a sailfish.
“Central America offers a wide variety of species and it is warm and safe – I feel safer in Mexico than I do here in Mangere.”
He put this to the test recently when he stood next to a female Mexican police woman ‘armed to the teeth,’ hoping for a photograph. He went to check out her Glock pistol as he saw the holster was unclipped, finding himself facing down the barrel of four automatic weapons in the hands of her colleagues.

When told to “put the gun back” he did so, concentrating on not making any sudden movements! Graham is known to be ‘very expressive’ when dropping a fish, no better illustrated than on a trip to Vanuatu to catch his first blue marlin, filmed for an episode of The ITM Fishing Show.

At the ITM Fishing Media Awards evening, run several years ago, Graham received an ‘Emmy’ for the ‘Best Dummy Spit’ after dropping his eighth marlin in a row. He subsequently took out the ‘Best After Fish Celebration’ after finally landing the ninth fish, his first blue.

While Graham has had the ability to travel extensively in recent years, he still likes nothing better than chasing two iconic Kiwi sportfish – snapper and kingfish.
“I suspect I might outlive my fishing funds, but nothing can take away the great memories.”

Charter Fishing
While he has owned several boats over the years, Graham relies on the fishing charters to get his angling fix.
“Charter fishing makes life simple. There is no maintenance and insurance bills or cleaning down afterwards.
You pay your money, enjoy a relaxing day’s fishing and then walk off at the end of the day with very little else to do than fillet the catch and clean your gear – perfect.”

He also suggests the planning and anticipation that goes into a trip is every bit as enjoyable as the event itself.
While health issues make long haul travel difficult, you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t stop Graham making the most of any fishing opportunities on offer in his home waters…