My trip of a lifetime
Certain fishing trips can stand out in an angler’s mind for a number of reasons. Kirsty Hill recalls a special charter out of Mangawhai earlier this season that resulted in each of the three ‘marlin virgins’ catching his or her first billfish…
The lambs had been drenched and dipped, the cattle sorted, the export lambs loaded for the market, the crops drilled... It sure had been a crazy and busy lead-up for the staff at Waiwhenua, the family-run farm in Hawkes Bay. So a trip was booked with old friends Tony and Bea Orton from Offshore Adventures, based out of Mangawhai.
I’d met Tony at the Icast trade show in USA several years ago, and knew that on his return to New Zealand I would have a gamefishing charter with him. Favourable moon dates were selected, with a two-day window booked to allow for a lay day and/or bad weather. Our goals were to catch a marlin and learn from a master.
We arrived late at night after a quick flight from Napier to Auckland. Mangawhai is a 1.5-hour drive north from the airport – although rush-hour traffic and a burger stop in Ponsonby for the boys turned it into a three-hour trip.
We were pumped … not! It had been quite a build up, but the three marlin virgins were exhausted from a big week on the farm. However, we managed to get on the water at Tony’s scheduled departure time. The weather looked marginal, but we were all hardy anglers, so the adventure began.
The boys – my partner Gary Holden, son Robbie Hill and Waiwhenua’s stock manager Johnny Groves – were impressed with Tony’s well set up Extreme Game King 850 Walkaround, and finally the excitement began to build – we were going to be out doing it, after not even being near the water all summer back in the Bay.
The briefing was brief but thorough, the bar was okay, the livies were accommodating – fairly jumping onto our rigs – and we were off to blue water out wide.
The routine was simple: get those lures set, observe, observe,
observe, and hold tight. (Amazingly, this was Tony’s first marlin charter for the season, as he’d been solidly booked by crews wanting to catch kingfish.)
The impressive-looking G-force lures were new to me; each crew member was given a crash course on setting them, along with the retrieval drills – and then, only 15 minutes after setting the gear, whammo! We were hooked up!
The strike was observed by all; adrenalin started pumping, the remaining lures were cleared away, and Tony began chasing down what was to be the first stripy of the day – we’d barely had time to get organised!
The crew worked like clockwork, and our first marlin was tagged and released in 15 minutes. Wow, did that really happen so fast – our first marlin virgin sorted already? By this stage, the guys knew that Tony really did know his business!
With massive bait schools showing on the sounder, we continued to work the area, with Tony’s willingness to share his knowledge making the experience even more enjoyable and appreciated: he’d put us right on the money within a couple of hours of being on the water.
We turned out to be the most fortunate crew, with three of us eventually catching, tagging and releasing beautiful marlin on the first day. A double strike saw one tagged marlin for me, while the other was lost at the boat.
Never in our wildest dreams had we expected this outcome. The passion and excitement generated from all these amazingly beautiful fish caught, tagged and released, made the experience extremely special for us all.
It was therefore an extremely satisfied crew that celebrated with a few beverages and a leg of beautiful Hawkes Bay lamb, prepared by Bea, as we reflected on our wonderful day.
So, knowing that there was another day on the water ahead, we had a great night’s sleep at the lodge – although there was some unfinished business, with one of the crew missing the tagging and photo opportunities.
OUR SECOND DAY commenced with a nice Mangawhai sunrise. We were still a bit shell-shocked from the previous day’s events, but also brought back to earth somewhat by Tony assuring us that we’d be most unlikely to enjoy a repeat in New Zealand’s coastal waters.
Not unexpectedly, the morning was very slow, as Tony suspected the bite time was going to be in the afternoon. However, the workups were amazing, with gannets diving in all directions through massive bait schools of jack mackerel. And, sure enough, time and persistence in working the previous day’s area resulted in Gary finally tagging and releasing his first stripy.
After that we had one more strike, which was bill-wrapped and dropped after a ten-minute fight, before the day ended.
We’d enjoyed an amazing nine marlin hook-ups, with five fish tagged and released over two days – an experience we’ll probably never duplicate. Also, with so much activity in such a short time on the water, our skill levels had grown massively.
So no more marlin virgins on this farm – but it does beg the question: what do we do next year?