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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 5 (September 1, 1928)

Big Game Fishing — In New Zealand's Northern Waters

page 50

Big Game Fishing
In New Zealand's Northern Waters

When thou hast caught a swordfish single-handed thou wilt be a man, my son.—(Maori proverb).

New Zealand may claim to possess not only fresh water fishing areas second to none in the whole world, but the finest deep-sea angling waters in the Seven Seas. Thomas Bracken was right when he described the Bay of Islands as the “Bay of Beauty.”

The Bay of Islands, with its historic town of Russell, has two predominant attractions to offer, to visitors. The first is its scenery, presenting vistas of unsurpassed beauty. The Rawhiti group of islands and many smaller islands, dotted about the harbour, with their native foliage (including the delightful Pohutukawa trees, which grow along the shores of the beautiful bays and inlets) make one believe when wider publicity is given to the North many more visitors will flock to our shores. Thanks to the enterprising Railway Department, Government Tourist Department, and Publicity Department, much more attention is now being paid to this portion of our Dominion.

A typical deep-sea fishing launch at the Bay of Islands. (Note the chair at the bow of the launch.)

A typical deep-sea fishing launch at the Bay of Islands.
(Note the chair at the bow of the launch.)

The second attraction is its wonderful fishing grounds. Until recent years big game fishing with rod and line was only indulged in by a few enthusiasts. While credit must be given to that well known sportsman Mr. A. D. Campbell, for landing the first swordfish on rod and line while fishing off Cape Brett, it was not until a year or so ago, when Mr. Zane Grey and party came to New Zealand to try out our waters, that the public became really acquainted with the sport. The thanks of Northland are due also to the “Auckland Weekly News” for helping to spread the news throughout the world about these wonderful fishing grounds.

Captain L. D. Mitchell, an Englishman who was attached to Mr. Zane Grey's expedition, holds the world's record for landing the largest fish ever caught with rod and line. This fish was a Black Marlin and weighed 976 lbs. (It took Captain Mitchell four hours to land his prize in the process of which it towed his launch a distance of ten miles out to sea.) At that time Captain Mitchell was camped on the Island of Urupukapuka—which is in close proximity to our fishing grounds—being about 12 miles down the harbour by launch from the railway terminus.

At the time Captain Mitchell caught his big fish there were no scales on the Island big enough to weigh it; the result was the huge monster had to be cut up. Captain Mitchell's fine specimen of a Black Marlin was thus lost to the Dominion. Realising the importance of this matter the museum authorities have now made arrangements where by all record fish caught may be preserved. (It may be mentioned that there is located at the fishing quarters on the Island of Urupukapuka a taxidermist who is doing valuable work in this connection. Anglers who are fortunate in securing a swordfish, or other big game fish may, therefore, have their trophies preserved on the spot. This is one of the many innovations and is much appreciated by sportsmen.)

Otehei Bay on the Island of Urupukapuka has been turned into a fine rendezvous for all deep sea fishermen, whether they are in search for the monsters of the deep or prefer to just fish for the many other kinds of fish which abound in the northern waters. In order to convey some idea of the abundance and size of the fish caught in these waters, let me state that, for the first months of this year, fish aggregating 46,366 lbs. in weight (over 20 tons), were landed by means of rod and page 51 line at the Bay of Islands. The following is a list of the fish caught in the period mentioned:—95 Mako sharks, 63 swordfish, 14 hammerhead sharks, 9 black marlin, 1 broadbill, 1 thresher shark; total, 183.

The following anglers landed records for the season—

Mr. H. White Wickman, London, 1 hammerhead shark (400 lbs., 6th January); 1 broadbill (693 lbs., 9th January).

Lord Grimthorpe, Leeds, England, 1 mako shark (630 lbs., 24th January).

General Sir Thomas Bridges, England, 1 thresher shark (160 lbs., 14th February).

Mr. H. A. Britton, Taihape, New Zealand, 1 black marlin (876 lbs., 16th March).

Mr. J. W. Kershaw, Martinborough, New Zealand, 1 swordfish (410 lbs., 22nd March).

As a winter resort the Bay of Islands cannot be excelled. Many improvements have been made with a view to giving every assistance to those who may wish to indulge in the sport of deep-sea fishing. A new wharf derrick and a weighing machine have been erected, the weighing machine being capable of recording weights up to three tons.

Last year, it will be remembered, the Duke of York paid a visit to the fishing area and tried his hand at the game. His Royal Highness was so delighted with his visit that he expressed the hope that one day he may be able to spend a month on the fishing grounds.

The sleeping Quarters on Urupukapuka Island.

The sleeping Quarters on Urupukapuka Island.

Playing a Swordfish.

Playing a Swordfish.

The social side has been catered for by the erection of a fine building containing a spacious lounge and dining hall. On the verandah (which measures 75ft. by 16ft.) of this building, the fishermen may sit and smoke after their day's sport and talk over piscatorial matters to their heart's content. Sleeping accommodation is provided in comfortable bungalows adjacent to the main building.

Russell may be regarded as the headquarters of deep-sea fishing. The launchmen there have made a study of deep-sea angling. These men are not only experts in hunting and landing the big fish, but they are ever ready to give of their best to any angler who may wish to try his luck at this fascinating sport.

It may be mentioned by way of recognition of the qualifications of the launchmen of Russell, that the Zane Grey Expedition which is visiting Tahiti and the South Sea Islands at the present time, engaged Peter Williams and Francis Arlridge, experts from Russell. These two men proceeded to Tahiti in July and the expedition, after trying out new waters, will return to our Northern waters. The area of water to be covered during Zane Grey's next visit to our shores will be extensive—from near the East Cape to the North Cape. (Captain Mitchell informs the writer that the party will spend three months here.)

So far as the launches are concerned there are none anywhere in the world more up-to-date than those at Russell. They are fitted up with every conceivable contrivance—chairs, harness, tackle, and all other equipment necessary for fighting the huge monsters of the deep. To see a swordfish after being hooked, jumping clear of the water and then seemingly walking along the waves on its tail in an endeavour to extricate itself from the hook, is a sight to behold. Many an angler has been absolutely exhausted after playing one of these sporting fish for some hours. But he becomes so enraptured over the exciting thrills that he is ever ready to start the next round.

It is not generally known that deep-sea angling may be indulged in all the year round. To make it clear it may be stated that the Black Marlin, Striped Marlin, and the Broadbill are migratory, and reach the North Coast of New Zealand during the warm season. They come with the warm currents and go away when the cooler weather sets in. From December to the middle of May, therefore, is the best time to hunt the swordfish. The Mako shark, Thresher shark, Hammerhead shark, King Fish, and many other page 52 kinds of smaller fish, may be caught all the year round. The King Fish is an excellent sporting fish. With a light rod and tackle one cannot wish to indulge in a pleasanter sport than that of hunting these fish. (As caught in northern waters they weigh anything up to 110lbs.)

Many distinguished people have visited the Bay of Islands this last season, amongst whom were Lord and Lady Grimthorpe, General Sir Thomas Bridges, Mr. White Wickham, and many others. (General Sir Thomas Bridges has been here twice and Mr. White Wickham is looked upon as an annual visitor.)

Lord Grimthorpe made his name famous by reason of the fact that he landed the world's record Mako shark, weighing 630lbs., on the 24th January last. He and Lady Grimthorpe made their headquarters on Urupukapuka Island and were simply charmed with their visit. They are already planning a return visit to New Zealand. Certainly Lord Grimthorpe had wonderful luck. By a strange coincidence the previous world's record Mako shark was caught on the same rod and reel as was used by his Lordship. Mr. F. B. Lewis of England was the successful angler to land a 577 pounder, the previous world's record.

A Prize From The Deep. A fine specimen of Swordfish caught at the Bay of Islands.

A Prize From The Deep.
A fine specimen of Swordfish caught at the Bay of Islands.

Incidentally, it may be mentioned, that Lord Grimthorpe has had the jaw of the world's record Mako preserved, and it has been sent Home to his country house in Leeds, Yorkshire. Moreover, Lady Grimthorpe has proved as ardent a lover of the sport as his Lordship, and has landed some fine specimens. Lady Grimthorpe is having the skin of the world's record Mako shark turned into useful articles such as shoes, hand-bags, etc. (The ladies, generally, are taking a very keen interest in this thrilling sport, and are proving themselves to be as accomplished therein as the sterner sex.)

There is one matter I especially would desire to stress and it concerns the expense involved in connection with this sport. It is quite erroneous to think the sport is beyond the reach of the ordinary man. If an angler goes to the fishing grounds and requires a launch to himself and uses benzine by the gallon trolling about on the high seas, it must necessarily follow that the bill for benzine will run into a considerable amount. Launches may be hired from £3 upwards per diem, plus benzine used. This includes the pay of the master of the launch. He must live, and, of course, has to keep his boat in perfect order. I have in my possession the bill of costs incurred by a party of anglers who visited the Bay of Islands last season. The anglers expressed surprise at the reasonable cost for such a thrilling and delightful holiday. When one goes in for sport of any kind, whether it be football, golf, cricket, tennis, yachting, etc., it is to a large extent a matter for the individual as to how much his outfit will cost. So it is with the sport of deep-sea fishing—a sport that entices the business man away from the turmoil of city life and provides him with rest and recreation which will send him back to his work with renewed vigour. The angler of the twentieth century can, if he so desires, be a very well-equipped sportsman. If he is wise in his generation and procures the best tackle it is improbable that he will ever have to blame his “tools” for poor sport. Angling is almost an exact science and the fisherman who is up-to-date will not be put off with anything but the best. It is always advisable, however, to obtain the best advice possible before purchasing a lot of tackle which may prove of little use. I have known of anglers who brought to the Bay of Islands enough impedimenta to sink a launch, and then use little of it. The simple Tanekaha rod, made from the native tree bearing that name, is an inexpensive rod. The wood is strong and pliable and sportsmen enjoy just as much sport with this kind of rod as they do with the more expensive ones.

These famous fishing grounds are easy of access. Express trains run daily from Auckland to Opua, the railway terminus at the Bay of page 53 Islands. There launches meet the trains and convey the visitors down the harbour direct to the haunts of the deep-sea fish.

As space is limited I cannot write anything about drifting, trolling, tarporinos, why it is necessary to use a wire trace, and many other details. However, if anyone contemplating a trip to Russell for the purpose of deep-sea fishing will communicate with me at Russell (C/o Post Office Box 28), I shall gladly answer any correspondence in this connection.

Urupukapuka Island, N.Z.

“…Seven thousand miles from California! What a long way to come, to camp out and to fish, and to invite my soul in strange environment! But it was worth the twenty-six days of continuous travel to get there…. The very strangeness eluded me. The low sound of the surf had a different note… Nevertheless, I was not slow to appreciate the beauty of the silver-edged clouds and the glory of the golden blaze behind the purple ranges. Faint streaks of rays of blue, fan-shaped, spread to the zenith. Channels of green water meandered everywhere, and islands on all sides took on the
On The Northern Coast. Hauling the catch ashore.

On The Northern Coast.
Hauling the catch ashore.

hues of the changing sunset…. I saw several sailing hawks, some white gulls, and a great white-winged gannet. Then I heard an exquisite bird song, but could not locate the bird. The song seemed to be a combination of mocking bird melody, song sparrow and the sweet wild plaintive note of the canyon swift. Presently I discovered that I was listening to more than one bird, all singing the same beautiful song. Larks! I knew it before I looked up. After a while I located three specks in the sky. One was floating down, wings spread, without an effort, like a feather. Down, down, he floated faster and faster, bursting his throat all the while, until he dropped like a plummet to the ground, where his song ended. The others circled round higher and higher singing riotously, until they had attained a certain height; then they poised, and began to waft downward, light as wisps of thistle-down on the air… What gentle soft music! It was elevating and I was reminded of Shakespeare's sonnet: ‘Hark! Hark! The lark at heaven's gate sings.’ They sang until after dark; and in the grey dawn, at four o'clock, they awoke me from sound slumber. I knew then I had found a name for this strange new camp. Camps of the Larks!”

From “Tales of the Angler's Eldorado.” By Zane Grey.