The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 7 (November 1, 1928)
We may say of angling as Dr. Bolter said of strawberries, ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.’ And so, if I might be judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.
In my two previous articles on big game fishing in the world-renowned northern waters of New Zealand, I attempted to familiarise readers of the Magazine with the exceptional scenic attractions of the Bay of Islands and Urupukapuka Island, with the excellence of the transport facilities (by rail and launch) for reaching the fishing grounds, and with the art of hunting and capturing—more particularly the swordfish. In this contribution I propose to deal briefly with the mako shark, which, with the thresher and hammerhead sharks (all famous sporting fish), are caught on rod and line in our northern waters.
Of other species of this fish also caught, I might mention the blue shark, ground shark, raraemai shark and sharks of the grey nurse species. These latter, however, are not sporting fish, and the New Zealand Deep Sea Angling Clubs do not give certificates for their capture. When one of these species of sharks is hooked it sinks down in the water and gives the anglers little if any sport whatever. One angler, however, a well-known doctor, who was fishing some time ago from Otehei Bay, did have considerable sport with a monster specimen of the grey nurse shark. The shark, when hooked, took the angler's line a distance of some 200 yards from the launch and kept down deep in the water all the time. After playing the fish for an hour or more the angler succeeded ultimately in bringing the shark alongside the launch where it was harpooned. To the angler's consternation the shark's stomach was found to contain a collie dog (recently swallowed), four squibs, six schnapper, two crayfish, sundry other fish, and two penguins! Truly an interesting catch and, at the same time, a reminder of the ugly depredations of this species of fish. Unlike the swordfish which leave our northern waters before the commencement of winter for their esoteric spawning places, the sporting members of the shark tribe (the mako shark, etc.), and the kingfish, remain in close proximity to our coast throughout the year.
The thresher shark with its enormous tail—a tail longer than its body—is the deadly enemy of the whale, and this shark is most frequently seen during the whaling season—two periods of about six weeks’ duration in each year. By this I do not mean to suggest that the thresher shark cannot be caught at any time during the year. He can; and he is a great fighter. His fault, however, is that he fights deep beneath the water, is exceedingly stubborn and, pound for pound, a much harder fish to tackle than his brother the mako.page 43
The mako is called the aristocrat of the sharks. Indeed, it is somewhat of a misnomer to call this particular fish a shark at all, and expert anglers hesitate so to designate him. After the mako attains full size he becomes a magnificent sporting fish, weighing anything up to 2,200 lbs. It is fascinating to watch him, as he does, come out of the water with the greatest ease, glide up, turn a somersault and then go down head first like a great sea bird. Then he will rise again in a second or two and leap. Seldom does he leap once only. He may leap six, seven, or more times. He is certainly the aristocrat of all sharks and one of the greatest sporting fish which haunt the waters of our famous northern coast
I wish here to say for the information of the inexperienced angler who goes to the Bay of Islands to hunt the big fish, that, despite the launchmen's knowledge of the best times and tides for engaging in the hunt, the odds are usually against a record catch. However, if the big monsters are not biting, or if the neophyte becomes tired of handling the heavy tackle, he can always fall back on the kingfish, which abound closer in towards the shores of the many delightful bays and headlands in numbers to satisfy the sporting aspirations of “a million anglers” as one expert has expressed it. Many of these smaller fish (especially the kingfish) are splendid fighting fish, and their capture gives the inexpert angler not only constant delight, but valuable expereince in the art of playing the bigger fish he yearns to catch. Moreover, the inshore fishing has the big advantage (preferred by many longshoremen) that it does not subject one to the tumbling in the swell of the open sea when the weather is unpropitious.
Now, let me repeat here what I said in a previous article concerning the availability of the sport of deep sea fishing to people of moderate means. It is commonly supposed that only people in affluent circumstances may indulge in this sport. That is a mistake. How much money one spends on the sport depends, of course, on how one goes about it. For the man of moderate means there are plenty of launches available for hire from £3 per day upwards (plus benzine used). This modest cost may be shared by two, three or even four, anglers, so that the individual cost need not be beyond the means of the average reader of the Magazine who wishes to spend a holiday in this most beautiful part of our Dominion and indulge in this thrilling sport which has lured so many famous men to our shores in recent years.
The sport associated with the hunting and capture of the deep-sea fish, is not only fascinating and thrilling. It is, at times, highly amusing—as when, in some instances, the big fish seem to manifest uncommon sagacity in regard to the safety and appetising nature of the bait.
Two anglers from Ceylon recently, while fishing in the Bay of Islands, were baffled completely by the number of times their bait (in which the hook had been placed in the orthodox fashion) was taken by the fish without the latter being hooked. They came to the conclusion that the fish in the sea had all too human powers of logical discrimination in regard to the “adulteration” or otherwise of their food. In the course of their first day's fishing the two Ceylon anglers hooked their bait (a kahawai) through the jaw, leaving its tail and body free to be devoured by the hungry fish. On this occasion a deep-sea fish took the bait, but not the vital part of it! He bit it off close up to the head (wherein the hook was embedded) leaving the head of the kahawai untouched! On the second day another kahawai was prepared for bait, this time with a lead and a small hook placed down towards the tail in addition to the hook in the jaw, leaving only a few inches of the fish free. In this instance the anglers found that they were again defeated, the discerning fish taking the bulk of the bait—but without the hooks! On the third day out the anglers had a conference with the expert fisherman in charge of the party, and a plan was evolved whereby it was hoped to get even with the elusive big fish. Accordingly, for the third time, a kahawai was hooked for bait—this time with a lead containing a smaller hook concealed carefully in page 44 the tail of the bait. The kahawai was cast over the side of the launch and the anglers awaited results. Presently it was noticed that a big fish was nibbling at the bait. When the line was reeled in, however, it was found that the kahawai's head and tail remained on the hooks, but the big game fish had bitten a slice out of the bait where the hooks did not exist!
But the humour, the delight, the thrills and the fascination of this sport of deep sea fishing in our northern waters, must be actually experienced to be adequately appreciated. Every season sees an increasing number of new comers at the Bay of Islands and on the fishing grounds—a sure indication of the popularity of this historic place and of the sport now so inseparately associated with its name.
In concluding this series of articles let me reiterate that the Railway Department now runs a daily express service from Auckland to Opua at which terminal up-to-date launches meet the trains and convey visitors to Russell in twenty minutes. The train journey from Auckland gives the traveller glimpses of interesting farming country and delightful scenery. It also gives him many reminders of the courtesy of our railwaymen whose solicitude for the comfort and convenience of travellers on the northern line is the constant theme of praise and comment.