Matt Watson, the fishing guru of ITM Fishing Show fame, has a new series on Prime this month: ITM Hook Me Up!, where everyday New Zealanders as well as household names venture out on quests to fulfil their fishing dreams. Watson is pictured aboard the Alm
“I’d been on The Late Show, and David Letterman said to me: “I hear you’re going to catch a marlin off a surfboard.” I’d never said that. But it was my first live interview, so I just said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m going to do that this summer.” When I got home, I rigged my surfboard up with a rod holder on it and hustled up some mates and more or less went out and did it the first day. A guy who owned Zane Gray’s old boat had been in touch with us – it’s the Alma G, which is still based in the Bay of Islands. Gray was the godfather of game fishing, and a famous American novelist and movie maker. The New Zealand Tourism Board brought him to New Zealand in the 1920s. He wrote a book called The End of El Dorado, about his voyage to New Zealand. When he got here, there were no game fishing boats but there was an old whaling boat called the Alma G and he converted it into a fishing boat.
The owner of the boat had restored it and offered for us to go out and fish on it. He said the people at the Russell Museum could get some of the vintage clothes from that era for us to wear.
Before Zane Gray left New Zealand, he gifted his game fishing reel – basically a one-of-a-kind prototype – to the skipper of the Alma G, a 19-year-old called James. And now James’ daughter – a woman named Mrs Arlidge – had it. The Alma G’s owner offered to ask Mrs Arlidge if we could use it for the shoot. It’s a priceless bloody antique which hadn’t been used for over 70 years. And she said: “Yeah, sure!”
We turned off all the electronics and fished as they would have – no lures, we caught our own bait.
When we were catching our bait, we saw a mako shark trying to eat a penguin. As soon as I saw it, I thought: “That’s what Zane Gray wrote about in his book!” It was the first mako shark I’d seen right inside the bay, feeding. I thought: “Wow, that’s a bit of a coincidence! The only other time I’ve heard of this happened is in Zane Gray’s book!”
We headed miles offshore once we’d caught our bait and there was only one other boat out there, called Otehei. It was the Alma G’s sister ship – they used to go out in pairs because there was no radio contact in those days. It’s based in Tauranga and here we were, out of the Bay of Islands, and by pure coincidence the Otehei was fishing alongside us.
We were towing along an old teaser and up popped a marlin. I threw out the bait attached to this antique rod and reel, and it ate it. And, just like what happened to Zane Gray, when we were fighting it, the reel got ripped off the rod and we tied it back on with twine. Anyone who’d read the book and watched the episode would have thought we’d manufactured all those things.
I’m a big proponent of tag and release but we were doing it as they would in those days, so we took the fish in to be eaten, managed to get Mrs Arlidge’s reel back to her in one piece, and filmed a little bit of history, I guess. Britt Mann
ITM Hook Me Up! screens Mondays at 7.30pm on Prime. The episode Watson refers to can be viewed at ultimatefishing.tv.