Off-Site Editor Ethan Neville had heard rumours about the Chums. Their merch was popping up in strange places, and some of their catches were getting a bit of attention online. After investigating further, he saw that they have been landing 20lb+ snapper most weekends, and even more fittingly, are a group of tradies. A time was quickly arranged to meet, and Ethan made his way to Riverhead to find out more about what these guys are up to.
I turned up at “The Shack” just after 7pm on a Monday. The guys had already got stuck into the BBQ and a couple beers – I was five minutes late, after all. It was handshakes all round as I entered the shed and did the rounds. The space was filled with only the essentials: two boats, a couple of 20lb+ taxidermied snapper (the soft-baits still in their mouths), a pool table, a dart board, a TV and a whole bunch of Chums merch. The Shack, as it turned out, is the affectionate name given to the Studd’s family shed and, more importantly, Chums HQ.
Five of the group were present: Jake Studd (whose family property I was now on), sparky; James Tulloch, marine engineer apprentice (AB Marine, Westhaven); Tyran McRae, chippie; Jonny Tulloch, plumber (Collins Plumbing and Gas); and Ricky Massey, another chippie. Absent were about 15 others, all childhood friends, and all tradies except for one bloke who’s taken on the institution of university – I can’t imagine the grief this wins him. Collectively, they form the increasingly popular and borderline publishable group: Chums. Each bloke was friendlier than the next, and as they cracked each other up yarning about what they get up to on their days off, I immediately knew this was going to be a strange kind of interview; instead of fighting to get a few good stories, I’d have to select the few best ones from the twenty odd that came flying my way.
So after a couple beers and some time spent trying to assimilate – I told them my dad played rugby out west – I pulled out my laptop and asked the tough questions. Who are the Chums? When did it all start? Why do I get the feeling that I’m witnessing the early stages of a cult?
Let’s start at the beginning.
First and foremost, location is what connected these boys. Riverhead is a small West Auckland town dominated by farmland and pubs – and like with most small towns, word travels pretty fast. For a group of mates doing their best to have fun at high school, this meant getting a reputation as troublemakers. They told the story best…
Tyran: When we were younger, we used to get up to a bit of mischief – nothing criminal – just pushing the boundaries here and there. For example, we used to hang deerskins and possum skins on the riverhead signs – it’s a sign of hunters doing well.
Jonny: We mainly did it when all the townies started arriving to let them know what it’s like.
Jake: But then people started to post on the community page about us…
James: Page full of Karens…
Tyran: Some of the mums in the neighbourhood told their kids not to hang out with the chums. And if that’s what they say we are, that’s what we are. So, we started calling ourselves the Chums.
And that was that; the Chums were born. At first, it was just a name. The boys kept doing what they always did: hanging out, fishing, hunting, and finding a few more creative ways to have fun. Around “three or four years ago,” however, they decided to get the camera out, and that’s when they started to attract a bit of attention. One of their mates, Jordan, made some logos and the Chums Instagram and YouTube channel came to life.
“Instead of posting on our private Instagrams, we just started posting on the Chums page. It was just of stuff we’d already been doing,” Jake explained.
One of their first viral videos was Jonny carrying a pig on his back past the local Riverhead dairy. He was hungry after his hunt, so it made sense to stop in and grab a pie on his way home. The dairy owner didn’t agree, so Jonny was forced to walk the rest of the way home hungry, pig carcass and all.
Newshub picked up the video, and their post started doing the rounds on social media.
At another time, according to Tyran, “The boys tied a rope to the Mill Flat bridge after a massive storm and surfed the rapids.” Despite Ricky getting briefly trapped under a log, it worked amazingly well, and their reputation continued to grow. Since then, they’ve never had a problem getting good content.
“We only get two days to try create something,” Jake said. “We all work five days hard, but there’s always a Chum out there doing something.
“For us it’s not just about catching big fish or hunting down the wildest pig; it’s being out there with our mates and having a good time doing it. We are full noise when we are out there and lucky enough, a few trophy specimens get landed, caught and released along the way.”
While the Chums have built themselves a reputation for doing some wild stuff on their weekends, it was their fishing exploits which first got my attention. As mentioned, it seems they post another 20lb+ fish on their Insta almost every week.
“It all started happening with soft-baiting,” Jake explained. For west coast anglers, of course, using soft-baits is radical. A lot of the Chums’ fishing starts with a beach launch off Muriwai, and for the locals who watch them shoot over the waves without bait, it’s ludicrous. So how’d these guys get into soft-baiting?
The answer was unanimous: Bryce Studd. Jake’s dad, who sadly passed away earlier this year, was, at least in James’ description, “the soft-baiting godfather.”
Before anyone else on the west coast had given soft-baits a chance, Bryce persisted with the original Gulps, and his effort soon paid off. Bryce raised Jake on soft-baiting, and Jake, in turn, showed the rest of the Chums how to get the job done.
“We all got our twenty pounders pretty quicky after making the change,” Jonny told me. “It was insane.”
While Bryce clearly had a massive impact on these guys, John Gifford was another name that kept coming up.
“Bryce Studd got us into softbaiting and then John Gifford got us into drinking beers and hunting and fishing,” Tyran summed up. “They nurtured us; they loved the Chums.” John, in fact, got a 1000lb marlin (a grander) out of Ahipara in a five and a half metre McLay two or three years ago. That was a great day for the Chums, the guys laughed – I imagine with their celebrations on their minds.
Over the last few years, they’ve only been improving their techniques, even they’re not always conventional.
“I didn’t have a sounder,” Jake explained. “None of us grew up with sounders. We just look for depth. I don’t know how to use my sounder right now. Technology isn’t a big thing for us. We just look for structure. Cause we are fishing so shallow, we don’t need to use electronics. We cover the ground by casting.
“We always go to a reef that looks fishy,” he continued. “If someone gets a snag, that’s the right place to be fishing. 99% of the time we get a feed and a good fish under 10m. If we hit 20m, we go ‘na’ and head back inside.”
The Chums also run an annual fishing comp, which typically involves around 30 anglers. They all chip in 50-odd bucks and the winning snapper gets over a grand. John Gifford runs it, and each year some solid moochers are landed. I got excited at this point – I thought there could be a business opportunity. The response was quick: “The chums is about fun.”
What’s next for the Chums?
Their merch is taking off, and even if business isn’t a big focus, they have been inundated with orders. As expected, their t-shirts designs weren’t a commercial project, but simply drawn from their experiences.
“Bryce used to say ‘smoking reels’ and that’s where the t-shirt came from, and John used to say ‘hammer time, and that’s where the other design came from.”
“It’s amazing the attention it got. We didn’t think anything of it, and now we are absolutely blown away.”
“From North Cape to Fiordland there are Chums stickers on signs,” Jonny chimed in.
“It never ends and we didn’t put them there.”
“There’s so much aroha and it’s crazy. We just love it and we just want to bring them in,” Tyran continued.
If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that these guys are committed. Every Wednesday for five years, they’ve met to play pool and chill out at the Shack.
“The same bros have stayed solid,” continued James. “There are comers and goers, but we’ve stayed solid.”
I don’t doubt it. And I don’t doubt the Chums will be around for a while longer. From being “forever underdogs” – as Ricky put it – to now thriving and enjoying life in some of the most Kiwi ways possible, the Chums have shown they’ve got something good going on.
Check them out @chums.nz to see what they get up to next.